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Study shows school gaps
Albert Harris Elementary is named Priority school

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Albert Harris Elementary is one of 37 low-performing schools in Virginia designated as 2013-14 Priority schools that must engage state-approved turnaround partners to help design and implement reforms that meet state and federal requirements.

That’s according to a Virginia Department of Education news release, which says the designations are based on student achievement during 2012-13.

Under a two-year flexibility waiver granted in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Education (USED), interventions under the No Child Left Behind act are focused on Virginia’s lowest-performing schools, the release stated.

It added that the waiver gave Virginia schools relief from outdated NCLB-era rules and requires the state to designate the lowest-performing 5 percent of Title I schools as Priority schools. Another 10 percent of Title I schools are identified as Focus schools based on the achievement of historically low-performing subgroups. Title I of NCLB provides funding for schools with high percentages of low-income students.

Albert Harris fell from being designated a Focus school for 2012-13 (based on 2011-12 assessments) to being designated a Priority school for 2013-14.

Martinsville Schools Superintendent Pam Heath said more rigorous state Standards of Learning tests in some subjects and high poverty at Albert Harris are factors and challenges. She noted that 96 to 98 percent of students at Albert Harris are eligible for free and reduced lunch.

The USED flexibility waiver to Virginia schools also sets annual federal measurable objectives (AMOs) for narrowing achievement gaps in reading, math and high school graduation rates in low-performing schools, the VDOE release stated. Higher-performing schools are to improve or maintain achievement levels.

The AMOs represent the percentage of students within each demographic subgroup that must pass SOL tests in reading and mathematics in order to make acceptable progress toward reducing and closing achievement gaps. High schools also must meet benchmarks for raising graduation rates.

According to VDOE data for 2013-14 (based on 2012-13 assessments), Albert Harris did not meet the AMO target for “all students” in reading; and in math, it did not meet the AMOs for “all students” and the white students subgroup. Albert Harris also missed the higher expectations (MHE) requirement for Hispanic students.

MHE, in general, means a school or division missed the “meet higher expectations requirement” because it did not maintain the previous year’s passing rate within 5 percent or did not make continuous improvement (Asian subgroup only), according to the VDOE website.

Heath said Albert Harris was within 2 percentage points of making the AMO benchmark for “all students” in reading, using the three-year average. In math, Albert Harris met the AMO benchmark for Hispanic students but had a drop of at least 5 percent from the previous year’s passing rate.

In all, Albert Harris met 32 of the 36 indicators, Heath pointed out. “I think that shows that we anticipate being able to bring all of our students up to where they need to be,” she said.

According to Heath and Angilee Downing, the system’s assistant superintendent for instruction, the school division does not yet know the details of what it will be required to do to address Albert Harris being designated a Priority school.

They said the school division hired a second reading specialist at Albert Harris last school year and has made other improvements with the goal of making sure students receive the extra instruction, time and resources they need.

According to VDOE data, Patrick Henry Elementary, Martinsville Middle, Martinsville High and the school division also failed to meet some of the indicators.

Patrick Henry Elementary missed the higher expectation requirement for gap group 1 (students with disabilities, English language learners, economically disadvantaged students — unduplicated); gap group 2 (black students); and the economically disadvantaged students subgroup in math, according to VDOE data.

Martinsville Middle School missed the higher expectation requirement for the students with disabilities and white students subgroups in math, according to VDOE data.

According to Downing and Heath, Patrick Henry and Martinsville Middle failed to make the higher expectations because their passing rates slipped by at least 5 percent from the year before. No intervention is required for either of those schools, they said.

In math, Martinsville High School did not meet the AMO for “all students”; gap group 1 (students with disabilities, English language learners, economically disadvantaged students — unduplicated); and for the students with disabilities subgroup, according to VDOE data. That means MHS met all but three of about 45 indicators. A school improvement plan is required for MHS, according to VDOE data.

Downing and Heath said throughout the school division, educators are doing such things as making sure the state Standards of Learning, what’s being taught in the classroom, SOL tests and how it’s being tested are all aligned; moving beyond knowledge based on facts to knowledge that involves more critical thinking and application; and making sure students’ needs are met and resources are available.

They said the school division’s use of project-based learning at all grade levels this school year is an example.

Heath pointed out that the school division, because of extra funding received this year, now has fully credentialed staff in the math department at the high school.

The Martinsville school division missed the higher expectations requirement in math for the limited English proficient students subgroup. According to VDOE, the division met 44 of 45 indicators.

Heath said she was pleased the division met nearly all the indicators. She added that the school division added an English as a second language teacher this year because of extra funding.


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