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Board asks for reevaluation of accountability system

By Kim Walter

WINCHESTER -- The Frederick County School Board approved a resolution regarding high stakes, standardized testing of Virginia's public school students during its Tuesday night meeting.

The resolution was brought before the board on the same day that the Virginia Department of Education released federal accountability reports. School officials said they feel the reports misrepresent student and school performance.

According to the state, five of the division's schools met all of the state's annual measurable objectives based on the results of the Standards of Learning tests administered in the 2012-2013 school year.

Thirteen of the county's schools did not meet all of the annual measurable objectives, including Indian hollow Elementary School, which is in its second year as a Virginia Focus School.

Virginia Focus Schools, which represent 10 percent of Virginia's Title I schools, are identified based on the reading and math achievement of students in the three proficiency gap groups. The gap groups are composed of students with disabilities, limited English proficient students, economically disadvantaged students, African-American students and Hispanic students.

As a second-year Focus School, Indian Hollow Elementary will continue working with a state-approved coach to help develop, implement and monitor intervention strategies to improve the performance of students at risk of not meeting achievement standards.

Indian Hollow Elementary was not one of the 27 Focus schools, identified last fall, highlighted for meeting all the annual measurable objectives.

Peter Vernimb, assistant superintendent for instruction, said more assistance would be coming in from the state, as well as a coach who has to log 116 hours of assistance in the school.

"It's a two-year process, being a Focus School," he said. "We'll keep working and improving."

During the School Board's meeting, Superintendent David Sovine said that just because a school doesn't meet all the annual measurable objectives, doesn't mean that the school is poor performing or failing.

Sovine said that much more goes into student achievement and progress -- like the number of graduates earning advanced studies diplomas, the number of students earning industry credentials and the scholarships being awarded to students.

Although there is a need for school accountability, the current system is broken and mislabels many outstanding public schools as failing based solely on high stakes testing," he said. "The current federal and state accountability systems overemphasize standardized testing as the only meaningful measurement of school quality and are continuing to undermine educators from transforming schools by providing a broad range of learning experiences that better prepare students to be successful in the future."

Joy Kirk, president of the Frederick County Education Association, addressed the board with similar concerns.

She said that students, under the current system, are being "tested out of the love of learning," and should be "ignited and not burned out by the work done in classrooms."

Kirk said that teachers want to teach, and recognize that accountability will come into play in the education field. However, they feel that "there has to be a better way."

Sovine introduced a resolution to the board for its consideration. He said several other board of directors, including that of the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, have agreed to support it.

"Scant research exists to support Virginia's assumption that students will be better prepared to succeed in college or in their careers by taking and passing 34 criterion referenced tests in grades three through 11," the resolution reads. "There is insufficient evidence and limited research supporting the conversion of criterion referenced measures into student growth measures as authentic indicators of student achievement; and
WHEREAS, there is insufficient evidence and limited research supporting the use of student growth measures as an indicator of teacher, principal and superintendent effectiveness."

Sovine said the division's vision for students is to be engaged in meaningful and relevant learning, recognizing that students can be both consumers and creators of knowledge. While the school system expects to be held accountable for student and school performance, the current system limits resources and impedes preparation of students to compete on a world-wide basis, he added.

"The School Board of Frederick County, Virginia, calls on the Virginia General Assembly to reexamine Virginia public school assessments and the system of accountability ... so that it encompasses balanced assessments, reflects greater validity, uses more cost efficient sampling techniques and other external evaluation arrangements, allows for expedited test retakes, and more accurately reflects what students know, appreciate and can do in terms of the rigorous standards essential to their success, enhances the role of teachers as designers, guides to instruction and leaders, and nurtures the sense of inquiry and love of learning in all students," the resolution states.

All School Board members approved the resolution.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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