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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Local AMO results mixed

Thursday, October 11, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville and Patrick County were two of the 34 school divisions in Virginia (out of 132 total) that met all of the benchmarks for reading, mathematics and graduation for federal annual measurable objectives (AMOs).

Henry County was one of the 98 school divisions that did not meet all the benchmarks, according to a Virginia Department of Education news release and data on its website.

Albert Harris Elementary School is one of 72 schools (out of a total of 1,836 in Virginia) to be classified as “focus schools.” Focus schools, which represent 10 percent of Virginia’s Title 1 schools, must employ a state-approved coach to help develop, implement and monitor intervention strategies to improve student performance, according to a news release from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). Title 1 refers to reading and math programs for high-poverty schools.

Bassett High School and Stuart Elementary School are among 485 in Virginia that VDOE is directing to develop and implement improvement plans to raise the achievement of student subgroups that fell short of meeting AMOs.

The AMOs and related accountability requirements were established by the Virginia Board of Education as part of the commonwealth’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) flexibility waiver.

The AMOs are intended as yearly progress measures for low-performing schools. Higher-performing schools are expected to maintain or improve upon current pass rates. High schools also must meet a benchmark for graduation, the release states.

Henry County Schools

A link to the VDOE news release provided updated report cards on school divisions and individual schools. According to the report card for Henry County Schools, out of dozens of AMOs, the school division did not meet two graduation objectives, measured by the Federal Graduation Indicator. They were for two subgroups: “gap group 1” (students with disabilities, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students — not counted more than once) and a separate subgroup just for students with disabilities. According to the report card, proficiency gaps report the differences in performance of traditionally underperforming student subgroups as compared with established AMOs.

According to the report card, high schools, school divisions and the state must meet annual objectives for the percentage of students who graduate with a Standard or Advanced Studies Diploma. This objective is known as the Federal Graduation Indicator (FGI) to distinguish it from the Virginia On-Time Graduation Rate, which includes all Board of Education-approved diplomas.

Henry County Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton said the school division’s on-time graduation rate was 88.3 percent.

According to Cotton and the report card for Bassett High School, BHS did not meet the Federal Graduation Indicator standard for three subgroups:

• Gap group 1 (students with disabilities, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students (not counted more than once)). Cotton said BHS was at 68.8 percent, but 80 percent was needed.

• A separate subgroup just for students with disabilities. Cotton said BHS was at 33.3 percent, but 80 percent was needed.

• The subgroup for whites. BHS was at 77.5 percent, but 80 percent was needed, Cotton said.

As for the school division, he said, “Fortunately, we didn’t have any ‘focus’ or ‘priority’ schools out of 14 schools in the division. That’s a positive. ... We still have work to do.”

The Virginia Department of Education news release says priority schools must engage state-approved turnaround partners to help design and implement school-improvement models meeting state and federal requirements. Thirty-six schools in Virginia were classified as priority schools.

Cotton said Henry County has done such things as better aligning the core goals of the school division, individual schools and school principals, a big part of which is literacy; improving teacher evaluation; making sure students are reading on grade level when they enter middle and high schools; improving curriculum so that it has more real-world applications; bringing teachers together to analyze data; and providing professional development for core and special education teachers. He said the Harvest Foundation has provided “a great deal of resources” for professional development.

As for Bassett High School, Cotton said, efforts will be ramped up with the goal of all students graduating and graduating on time.

He added the school division already requires each school to have a school improvement plan.

Martinsville City Schools

Superintendent Pam Heath said being one of 34 school divisions to meet all AMOs “makes us happy, but we will keep working on teaching all students regardless of where the numbers fall.” She added, “I’m really proud of our whole school division.” The accomplishment reflects work of school leaders, teachers, students and parents, she said.

The biggest challenge for the school division is poverty, and Albert Harris Elementary is the highest poverty school in the division, she said.

According to Heath and the report card for Albert Harris Elementary, out of 36 indicators (18 on academic performance and 18 on participation, or the percentages of students taking the tests), the school missed two academic performance AMOs, both in reading:

• For “all students,” Albert Harris missed the three-year average objective by 7 percentage points and the current-year objective (referring to tests given in 2011-12) by 13 percentage points, Heath said. She added she didn’t immediately have more specific information.

• For black students, Albert Harris missed the three-year average objective by 3 percentage points and the current-year objective by 12 percentage points, Heath said.

According to the report card, schools have three ways to meet the AMOs: test results from the most recently completed school year, test results based on a three-year average, or by reducing the failure rate by 10 percent.

Heath pointed out that Albert Harris is accredited. Last month, the Virginia Department of Education announced that the Martinsville, Henry County and Patrick County school divisions are fully accredited for the 2012-13 school year, meaning all the schools in three school divisions are accredited. This is the second consecutive year for that milestone.

As a focus school, Heath said, “we will have to use some of our Title 1 money to hire a state-approved coach to provide technical assistance to us. We’re way ahead on that.” She said Jim Sellers of Virginia Tech will be the coach. He was a professor many years at Radford and formerly served as acting superintendent for the Montgomery County school division, Heath said.

She said the school system will take advantage of other resources available through the Virginia Department of Education, such as software, which all the city schools, not just Albert Harris, will be able to use.

She said the school division already has implemented or is implementing a number of other of improvements. For instance, a strategy was implemented last year in which student progress is monitored continuously and if weaknesses are found, there is immediate intervention. That strategy is continuing, she said.

She added, “Change doesn’t just happen overnight.”

“Just in general, we’re just in a time of political and financial unrest, and public education and public schools are being asked to do more and more. We don’t mind that, but it’s very tough with three very bad budget years in a row,” she said.

Patrick County Schools

Superintendent Roger Morris said he was “very pleased overall” with the AMO results for the school division. He attributed the division’s meeting the AMOs to the teamwork of faculty, staff, students and parents. But certainly the school division has some improvements to make, he said.

He said Stuart Elementary was “very close” to meeting all AMOs. According to Morris and the report card for Stuart Elementary, the only AMO the school did not meet was for reading performance for whites.

He said the school staff has been doing such things as working on reading remediation, fine-tuning and working on staff development for teachers, and working with instructional assistants to make sure they are utilized fully. “Reading instruction is the building block of every other subject,” he said.


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