School faces state intervention

Published 8:54 pm Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Elephant’s Fork Elementary will have to employ a state-approved contractor this year to try to turn things around after inadequate performance on standardized tests.

In 2012, Virginia was granted a waiver from the federal government’s No Child Left Behind policy. But it came with new objectives and related accountability requirements.

The state has to list the lowest-performing five percent of Title I schools as priority schools and the lowest 10 percent of Title I schools as focus schools, based on the achievement of historically struggling subgroups in state standardized tests.

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Of 1,872 Virginia public schools, Elephant’s Fork is one of 72 focus schools this year, the Department of Education announced Tuesday. About 36 priority schools will require deeper intervention.

The contractor required at Elephant’s Fork will “help the division develop, implement and monitor intervention strategies” to lift the performance of students at risk of not meeting standards, according to the department.

“Elephant’s Fork Elementary leaders and our Title I program administrators are working to develop a detailed plan of action,” district spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw stated.

Before the waiver, the downtown school missed four consecutive years of No Child Left Behind progress goals. To avoid a restructuring, it was required to make what’s known as Adequate Yearly Progress in all subjects two years in a row.

2013 was the first year under the waiver, releasing Elephant’s Fork from that requirement, and Suffolk Public Schools was pleased that no district schools needed interventions.

Five of 19 schools met targets for reading and math, known as Annual Measurable Objectives, to lift subgroup performance in 2013. This year, six schools met both targets, and 12 schools require improvement plans for falling short.

Bradshaw noted that “all 19 of our schools have had school improvement plans for years, regardless of full or warned accreditation, regardless of AMO results.”

“We believe in continuous improvement and our instructional administrators closely monitor progress with each principal based on goals, strategies and actions outlined in these improvement plans,” she stated.

Meanwhile, school accreditation ratings also announced by the department Tuesday confirm Suffolk Public Schools officials’ earlier projections: Ten schools are now accredited with warning — four more than previously.

Elementary schools Booker T. Washington, Elephant’s Fork, Hillpoint, Mack Benn Jr. and Nansemond Parkway were warned in English. Booker T., Elephant’s Fork and Mack Benn were also warned in math.

Middle schools Forest Glen, John F. Kennedy and King’s Fork were warned in English, while King’s Fork was also warned in history. King’s Fork and Lakeland high schools were both warned in math.

This year, 68 percent of Virginia schools are fully accredited, compared to 77 percent in 2013, and 30 percent are accredited with warning.

The drop in student performance has been attributed to new tests requiring more critical-thinking skills. Under the three-year average known as safe harbor, used if the current year’s results do not meet the mark, higher scores under the old tests provide less mitigation with each subsequent year.

“The SOL tests students began taking 16 years ago established a uniform floor across the state. Now the floor is being raised so all students — regardless of where they live, who they are, or their family’s income — will have a foundation for success in an increasingly competitive economy,” Board of Education President Christian N. Braunlich stated.

“These new tests represent higher expectations for our students and schools and meeting them will be a multiyear process.”

Steven R. Staples, superintendent of public instruction, said he was impressed by “the determination of teachers, principals, superintendents and other educators to meet the higher expectations.”

Education Secretary Anne Holton said Virginia students are among the highest performing in the nation for reading, math and science.

Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Deran Whitney “applauds the outstanding efforts and focused determination of all school administrators and teaching staff to help students meet higher expectations from the state,” according to Bradshaw.