ACPS stagnates on state test scores

By Erich Wagner (Image/Ashleigh Carter)

While schools like Patrick Henry Elementary School made sharp gains on newly released Standards of Learning test results, many schools stagnated or saw their test scores drop.

Alexandria City Public Schools officials anticipate Jefferson-Houston School again will be denied state accreditation as its test scores dipped further this year.

The Virginia Department of Education released preliminary district- and school-level test results Wednesday. Although a few Alexandria schools improved dramatically, the district’s scores overall barely budged.

The percentage of ACPS students testing proficient in reading dropped one point from 67 percent to 66 percent between the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years. But the city saw a slight gain on the writing exam, with 71 percent this year compared with 70 percent a year ago.

Gains in math slowed: although the number of students who tested proficient improved by seven percentage points last year, the pass rate only climbed one point between the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years from 63 percent to 64 percent.

Clinton Page, chief accountability officer at ACPS, said the district’s performance reflects statewide trends, as districts continue to grapple with new, more rigorous tests implemented over the last three years.

“Our work remains to be to continue to focus on increasing the rigor and the content delivered to our students in the classroom,” Page said. “By the same token, we must continue to focus on providing supports for both students and staff as well as increasing the accountability systems at the school and district levels.”

State education officials did not release data about districts or schools as they relate to federal benchmarks, which they traditionally have done before the start of school, instead opting to release those results next month when state accreditation becomes official. Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle said it “makes more sense” this way.

“Rather than doing two releases on accountability ratings, we felt it would be more understandable to the public to combine these with accreditation as the lead and then report on the schools identified as priority and focus schools,” he said.

But ACPS officials have released preliminary accreditation projections that the state provided to them last month. Page told school board members last week that Jefferson-Houston probably will be denied accreditation again this year. Four schools likely will be accredited with warning: Patrick Henry Elementary School in English and science; William Ramsey Elementary School in English, math and science; Francis Hammond Middle School in English, math and science; and T.C. Williams in math.

Despite Patrick Henry being on track for a warning status, it is a success story for the district. Students made significant gains in all four tested subjects, with English pass rates rising from 54 percent last year to 72 percent for the 2013-2014 school year and math scores jumping from 61 percent in 2012-2013 to 74 percent this year.

But Jefferson-Houston continued to lose ground. Although the number of students testing proficient in English ticked up slightly, from 45 percent a year ago to 47 percent in 2013-2014, math scores plummeted by double digits.

Students there will learn at a new, state of the art school house when they return to class Tuesday, and schools officials announced the pre-K through eighth grade school’s new lead principal Monday: Christopher Phillips, who previously served as a principal in Suffolk, Va. elementary schools.

Page said he hopes to use Patrick Henry and other schools that showed improvement to find new approaches to teaching at schools that are still struggling.

“As we move back into the schools, we have to ask: How do we leverage the successes in those schools to inform the best practices in all of our schools?” Page said.

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