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93 percent of Va.'s public schools fully accredited

Shenandoah, Warren facilities meet benchmarks; one in Frederick warned

By Michael Felerbaum, The Associated Press

RICHMOND - Education officials say 93 percent of Virginia's public schools are fully accredited after meeting state benchmarks, down from last year because the state imposed more rigorous mathematics standards aimed at better preparing students for college or post-graduation employment.

The Virginia Department of Education said Wednesday that all but 122 of the state's 1,836 schools met objectives on 2011-12 Standards of Learning tests and other statewide assessments in English, mathematics, science and history - and, for high schools, graduation. That's down from 96 percent last year.

As predicted, the decrease is in part due to the revised math standards that proved to be a challenge for students during the last school year. According to statewide data released earlier this month, 68 percent of students passed the math portion of the SOLs in the 2011-2012 school year, compared with 87 percent the year before.

"The board's move to more rigorous standards will continue to present accreditation challenges for many of the commonwealth's schools," Board of Education President David M. Foster said in a news release. "We are confident, however, that over the long haul our graduates will be better prepared to succeed in college and the workplace."

Locally, Shenandoah and Warren counties each received full accreditation across their districts. In Frederick County, 17 of 18 schools received full accreditation, with Frederick County Middle School being the only school to receive accreditation with warning.

As a result of its status, Frederick County Middle School will be subject to an academic review, and will be required to adopt and put in place a school improvement plan, according to a release from Frederick County Public Schools.

"An academic review has already been completed at Frederick County Middle School and all of our schools have school improvement plans in place," Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Peter Vernimb said in the release.

Schools were able to use a three-year average of test results to help lessen the impact of the lower test results, which officials said allowed 750 schools to earn full accreditation.

A similar impact is expected next year when the state implements higher standards for English and science, said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright.

Among Virginia's high schools, 90 percent meet full accreditation standards, up from 86 percent last year when the state first included high school graduation and completion among its accountability measures. Officials said 88 percent of middle schools and 96 percent of elementary schools also are fully accredited.

To gain full accreditation, 70 percent of students in each middle and high school must pass all four Standards of Learning subject areas.

High schools also must also attain a point value of at least 85 on a "graduation and completion" index. The annual index assigns certain point values to different types of diplomas, GEDs or other credentials, and factors in on-time graduation, dropouts and students transferring in and out of the school.

In elementary school, 75 percent must pass English tests and 70 percent must pass math tests in the third through fifth grades to gain full accreditation. Also, 70 percent must pass fifth-grade science and Virginia history (which can be offered in fourth or fifth grade), and 50 percent must pass third-grade science and third-grade history.

Adjustments are allowed for English learners, students who undergo remediation after failing reading or math tests, and students who recently have transferred into public school.

Ellen W. Chambliss Elementary School in Sussex County earned full accreditation after falling short for three straight years, officials said.

The state denied accreditation to two schools because of chronically low student achievement: Petersburg's Peabody Middle School, for a seventh straight year; and Norfolk's Lafayette-Wynona Middle School for a third straight year.

Officials say 100 schools are accredited with warning, up from 30 last year. Such schools have to undergo academic review and are required to come up with school-improvement plans. Six high schools are provisionally accredited - meaning they achieved the required pass rates in the four content areas and had a completion and graduation index in the 80 point to 84 point range.

Nine schools have conditional accreditation because they're new schools, officials said, and the status of five schools undergoing efforts to improve student performance after being denied accreditation will be determined by the state Board of Education at its October meeting.

Required pass rates will be raised in the 2012-2013 school year, when 75 percent of students in testing levels must pass English for schools to be accredited. Pass rates in science and history will be raised to 70 percent for elementary students.

- Daily staff contributed to this report

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