School chiefs react to accreditation changes

Greg Drescher

Shenandoah and Warren County public school superintendents are reacting positively to recent changes the state has made to its school accreditation process.

“This has been long awaited from the many years when the only thing used to determine school accountability was test results, and almost exclusively multiple choice tests at that!” Shenandoah County Superintendent Mark Johnston said Monday.

The superintendent of Warren County Public Schools likes the changes.

“I believe the changes to the accreditation requirements are positive,” Superintendent Greg Drescher stated in an email. “Reducing the number of SOL required tests is helpful. While ongoing assessment is a critical part of the instructional process, reducing the number of SOL tests allows schools to focus more on the formative  types of assessments that guide instructors on a daily basis, while still measuring student success at the end of the course.”

Shenandoah County public schools have already implemented changes in response to recent changes made by the state to the Virginia Board of Education Accreditation and Graduation requirements.

Mark Johnston

“We’ve developed and implemented our Instructional Cornerstones that encompass creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking,” Johnston said. “We’re in the process of implementing our career cruising software that we added to our budget for the current school year and we’ve developed performance assessments (such as a long-term project) to replace those SOL tests that were dropped.”

The Instructional Cornerstones provides a model through which staff members at the schools teach collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking, the skills identified as key for preparing career-ready students as identified by the state.

The revisions are designed to encourage continuous improvement for all schools while placing increased emphasis on closing achievement gaps and providing a more comprehensive view of school quality. This means schools will be rewarded for the improvements of students on their way to meeting Virginia’s educational expectations, even if they are not yet at that level.

One result is that performance evaluations and accreditation are no longer all about the tests.

For students, the revised regulations reduce the number of Standards of Learning tests they need to pass to earn a diploma. The new standards also increased emphasis on developing critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, collaboration and citizenship skills, in addition to measuring academic achievement in English, math, science and history.

“Any move to broader indicators of performances that are inherent in a more balanced system that does not rely only on test results is a good thing,” Johnston said.

He said having a focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration is more in line with what local employers tell them are the skill sets they are looking for in employees.

Administrators with the Warren County Public Schools division have already made some changes, such as implementing a new attendance program, but they are still reviewing other requirement changes and deciding on their course of action.

The requirement for schools to provide opportunities for students to learn about career options is something Warren County schools already do. They will, Dresher stated in the email, be making sure they understand what exactly the state requirements are specifically asking for to meet this requirement.

“How we educate our students is always evolving. How we measure and the tools we use to measure should evolve as well,” Drescher stated.