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City schools to seek waiver, grant
For exemption from SOL requirements; reading aid
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin staff writer
The Martinsville School Board approved applying for a waiver for third-graders reading below grade level at Albert Harris Elementary School to be exempt from state science and/or social studies testing requirements.
The board took that action at its meeting Monday night.
With the waiver would come a state grant of $46,000 the first year to help pay for a reading specialist. The grant potentially could be renewed a second year, for a total of about $92,000 for two years.
The grant is available because fewer than 75 percent of third-graders at Albert Harris passed the reading Standards of Learning (SOL) test. The pass rate was 72 percent, school division officials said.
The Associated Press recently reported that more than 20 Virginia elementary schools were seeking the testing waivers, which would give the schools more time to develop students’ reading skills.
At its meeting April 24, the Martinsville School Board rejected the idea of a waiver when it decided not to accept the state grant to help pay for a reading specialist. Officials said at the time that they didn’t want to send a message that affected Albert-Harris third-graders were being held to lower standards than their counterparts in the school division, that they didn’t want the students to miss out on important test-taking skills, and that Albert Harris already has reading initiatives.
Martinsville School Superintendent Pam Heath said during the meeting Monday that a number of school divisions had turned down the grant because of the requirement to provide an alternative to the SOL test, which they felt would be burdensome.
Subsequently, the state Department of Education decided to provide more flexibility by allowing school divisions to give the SOL test, but test results cannot be used against schools in accreditation decisions under the regulations. Schools receiving a grant must still teach the Standards of Learning for science and social studies and must publish the results of the SOL (or alternative) test.
Heath said the grant money will help offset the salary of a reading specialist position already at Albert Harris, not to hire an additional reading specialist there.
Angilee Downing, assistant superintendent for instruction, said getting third-graders to read on grade level will take care of many of the academic issues that could develop later on. About 26 students at Albert Harris will be affected, she said.
Robert Williams, vice chairman of the Martinsville School Board, said if the state department of education revised the regulations, “they really must want to give the money away.”
According to a news release on Gov. Bob McDonnell’s website: “Reading proficiency by third grade is an important predictor of high school graduation and career success. This is a continuation of the governor’s 2012 legislation that ended ‘social promotion’ of third-graders who did not pass the SOL reading standards.”
School board member Carolyn McCraw expressed support for applying for the waiver and providing services to help third-graders at Albert Harris read on grade level.
The motion was approved 3-0, with Williams, McCraw and school board Chairman Bill Manning voting for it. School board members Dr. Craig Dietrich and the Rev. J.C. Richardson Jr. were unable to attend the meeting.
In other business, the board approved applying for Elementary and Secondary Education Act funds in the amount of $1,242,794.88, an increase of about $26,000. According to a board document, the $1,242,794.88 includes:
• Title I, Part A (Improving Basic Programs) - $1,058,763.16. These funds will provide supplemental programs and services for identified Title I schools (Albert Harris and Patrick Henry elementary schools.) Approximately 80 percent of the funds will be used to fund instructional personnel. Title I A funding also will provide supplemental instructional materials as well as support parental involvement activities, student enrichment activities and professional development.
(According to the U.S. Department of Education website, Title I, Part A provides financial assistance to local educational agencies and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families.)
• Title II, Part A — $128,828.78. These funds will provide professional development for teachers at all grade levels as well as funding for one elementary teacher to reduce class size.
• Title III, Part A (limited English proficient, or English as a second language) - $11,154.30. These funds will provide instructional materials for students.
• Title VI, Part B, Subpart 2 (rural and low-income schools) — $44,048.64. These funds will provide K-12 professional development activities and materials.
The board also:
• Authorized the superintendent to employ personnel.
• Authorized the superintendent to assign teachers, principals and assistant principals for 2013-14.
• Assigned Downing and Travis Clemons, the school division’s executive director of finance and development, as Heath’s designees for 2013-14.