Major changes to way Virginia schools are evaluated for accreditation

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Department of Education is making changes to how schools are evaluated for their accreditation, focusing more on student growth over the course of the year.

Education leaders say it’s the first big change they’ve made to the Standards of Accreditation in 20 years.

How good a school is perceived is on the minds of some parents, like Elizabeth Kastelberg from Richmond.

“You know a school that had a good reputation,” Kastelberg said. “What is the accreditation, what are they following, what is it based on?”

Her 5-year-old Liam was getting in some last minute play time with his younger brothers before his first day of school next week.

“He’s really excited for kindergarten, he really wants to read,” she added.

Little Liam will be walking into the first academic year (2018-2019) with the new Standards of Accreditation. Beforehand, schools were evaluated on how well students did on Standards of Learning tests (SOLs) as well as graduation and dropout rates. Those indicators will still be taken into consideration, but now absenteeism, student achievement gaps in English and math will be included as well. Starting this year, 9th graders will also be evaluated throughout their time in high school on college, career and civic readiness.

“If students are making significant growth we’re going to give schools credit for that, as [before] we only gave them credit for students that passed,” Dr. James Lane, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, said. “Now this new system is going allow teachers and principals and school leaders to focus on all students, not just those that are right on the bubble of passing.”

Each of these indicators will be evaluated by three performance levels. Level 1 is at or above standard, Level 2 is below the state standard but improving. These two levels will be given accreditation.

Level 3 is below standard and is given an “accreditation with conditions” status. All schools are being asked to develop a multi-year plan for continuing growth in the school. If things need to be improved, they will develop a corrective action plan.

“We have a process to review corrective action plans for the schools that are in the lowest 5 percent of performance for our SOA plan, we’ll have intensive state intervention. So there will be tears of support that we will provide to schools as needed,” Dr. Lane said.

Schools that are making progress, though, will be given accreditation. Dr. Lane likened the process to hospital accreditation, where a medical facility will be able to keep their status while working towards their goal.

“Schools that are not making progress or are not moving forward on corrective action plans, only then should a school be denied accreditation,” Dr. Lane said.

In other words, if a school doesn’t meet the lowest performance level, Level 3, and isn’t working on their corrective plan then they will be denied accreditation. State and local officials will get involved if this happens.

On your kid’s next report card, you’ll be able to see the school’s accreditation status. With that, you’ll see the different indicators and how well the school is performing on them.

Education leaders say this new process is more hands on.

“Again, it’s not to water down the system. I think the system is still much more rigorous,” Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said.

Echoing each other, Lane and Qarni said there is still good teaching in schools without accreditation, there’s just a “stigma” around them.

“In the past, with the negative labeling of losing accreditation you do see families getting away from those schools,” Qarni said. “The change in labeling will really re-engage a lot of the families and communities to look at the schools and come back to the schools.”

Parents, like Elizabeth Kastelberg, just want the best for their growing kids as they start a new chapter.

“We hope that [Liam] just has an awesome year and that he loves school and that he feels confident and comfortable,” she said.

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