Accreditation scores may spell school changes

By Josette Keelor

A Tuesday announcement from the Virginia Department of Education on Tuesday has highlighted accreditation results for area public schools that could spell more changes in the future.

All schools in the Northern Shenandoah Valley are accredited for the 2014-15 school year, but several carry warnings until they improve testing scores. The ratings were based on 2013-14 Standards of Learning test scores.

Also released Tuesday were federal school accountability reports, which base results on reading and math achievement of students in three proficiency gap groups that include students with disabilities, those with economic disadvantages, English language learners and students of minority groups.

Local results confirmed what school divisions expected after analyzing last year’s test scores.

Anticipating Tuesday’s results, Warren County Public Schools has already drafted up improvement plans, said Greg Drescher, assistant superintendent for instruction.

He noted this was the first year any of the county’s schools were not fully accredited. Ressie Jeffries Elementary School earned accreditation with warning, he said.

“This is the same school that [two years ago] was in the mid- to upper-80s on these same tests in reading, English and math,” Drescher said. “The tests have changed, of course.”

Around Virginia, more difficult SOL tests of the last two years have resulted in fewer fully accredited schools, according to a Virginia Department of Education news release. Only 68 percent of Virginia’s schools are fully accredited this year, compared with 77 percent last year and 93 percent two years ago.

Statewide, 72 schools were identified as focus schools, requiring state-approved, school-improvement coaches to improve test scores.

Among them are seven area elementary schools: Shenandoah County’s W.W. Robinson; both of Clarke County’s elementary schools; and Frederick County’s Apple Pie Ridge, Indian Hollow, Orchard View and Redbud Run.

The schools will retain their designation for a minimum of two years, unless they become priority schools (the lowest performing 5 percent of Title I schools) or choose to no longer receive federal Title I funding.

Focus school designation can continue after the minimum two years, said Charles Pyle, director of communications for the department.

This will be W.W. Robinson’s third year as a focus school, and Superintendent Jeremy Raley said the district will “continue to work on improvement.”

“Like all of our schools, we’re going to look critically at where we are on all measures of student achievement,” he said. “… As we look overall at the success of our school division, we need to use a variety of measures.”

To receive full accreditation status, Virginia elementary and middle schools must achieve a 75 percent or higher pass rate on English SOL tests from the previous school year, and a 70 percent or higher pass rate on math, science and history tests. High schools are fully accredited if they achieve those pass rates and attain a point value of 85 or higher on the Graduation and Completion Index.

In Shenandoah County, North Fork Middle School earned accreditation with warning status for its English scores, Signal Knob Middle and W.W. Robinson for English and math, and Strasburg High School for math.

Ressie Jeffries in Warren County was warned for its scores in English and math.

Frederick County’s Orchard View Elementary and Clarke County’s D.G. Cooley Elementary each earned full accreditation, but were named focus schools — examples of why Virginia’s current school accountability system should be reformed, Superintendent David Sovine said in a news release from Frederick County Public Schools.

All five of the county’s focus schools met “a large majority of their annual measurable objectives,” he said. But as Drescher pointed out, missing one objective is all it takes.

“It’s a point or two,” he said. “I’m not sure there are dramatic differences.”

However discouraging it is, Drescher said, “It’s an opportunity to improve. OK, we have to pay a little more attention to it.”

And area schools have improved.

Middletown Elementary was accredited with warning in math last year, but is fully accredited this year. Warren County High School improved the score it earned from last year’s federal Annual Measurable Objectives and met all of this year’s benchmarks.

“It’s like most things in life,” Drescher said. “When you find an area and you focus on it, it tends to get better.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com