Friday, September 27, 2013
By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer
Franklin County is among only 36 school divisions out of 132 in Virginia that are fully accredited for the 2013-14 school year, according to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).
Last year, 87 school districts earned the fully accredited status.
"The rigor of state accreditation has increased over the course of the last several years," said Keith Pennington, director of curriculum and instruction for Franklin County schools. "New SOL standards, along with much more rigorous assessment standards, have made it more difficult to maintain this fully accredited status. With only 36 divisions achieving all schools being accredited, the increased rigor is evident."
The results, which were released Friday, are based on student performance on Standards of Learning (SOL) tests and other state assessments in English, history, mathematics and science during 2012-13.
The percentage of schools meeting state accreditation standards dropped sharply this year as a result of the introduction of rigorous new reading, writing and science Standards of Learning (SOL) tests during 2012-13, as well as a second year of results from more challenging mathematics assessments, according to the VDOE. Results showed that 77 percent of Virginia's 1,828 public schools are rated as Fully Accredited for 2013-14 compared with 93 percent for 2012-13.
"Over the last five years, the accreditation bar has been raised through the introduction of more rigorous curriculum standards and challenging new assessments that test students' problem-solving and critical-thinking skills as well as their content knowledge," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright. "In addition, the benchmark pass rates required for full accreditation have increased, and high schools must meet goals for improving graduation rates."
For a school to become fully accredited, 75 percent of its students must pass the English SOLs and 70 percent must pass the mathematics, history and science SOLs, according to the VDOE.
High schools must also have a graduation and completion index (GCI) of at least 85 to earn full accreditation, according to the VDOE.
According to the index, a high school will be awarded a full credit for students who earn a board-recognized diploma. A partial credit will be awarded for students who earn a GED and students who are still enrolled and expected to return to high school for a fifth year.
"The focus of the SOL program has shifted to the ambitious but vital goal of college and career readiness for all students," Board of Education President David M. Foster said. "Temporary declines in SOL scores and accreditation ratings are signs that the commonwealth is expecting more, not that students are learning less."
According to the VDOE, the impact of the challenging mathematics tests introduced two years ago grew as three-year averaging provided less mitigation in the calculation of accreditation ratings.
Only 257 fully accredited schools were able to meet the mathematics benchmark based on achievement over three years, compared with 750 last year.
Another 495 schools relied on three-year averaging to reach the benchmark for English and achieve full accreditation.
The number of schools accredited with warning nearly quadrupled to 395, and six schools in the commonwealth have been denied state accreditation because of chronically low achievement.
"We started preparing for the increased rigor of the SOL structure three years ago with math staff development, writing training in many elementary schools, curriculum design and instructional strategy modifications across all content areas," said Pennington. "Most importantly, we had the support of all staff in all schools in meeting the new requirements."
Pennington credited support from the community, parents and students as the "most important piece of the puzzle."
"They have stepped up for years, working cooperatively with teachers and ensuring Franklin County continues to be a leader in state academic performance," he said. "We all continue to work to ensure all students have the opportunity to achieve."