At Buford Middle School, optimism was up this year even before parents found out that the school, for the first time in four years, met the performance goals imposed by the federal government. "The parents just seem to have a very positive reaction to the new principal [Eric Johnson], and to the school in general," says Sumner Brown, parent of an eighth grader and president of the Buford PTO. "You can just feel it. They seem to feel a lot better about it even before people heard about this."
While August 22 was the big day for students, August 23 was almost as big for administrators. That’s when the state issued preliminary "report cards" for Virginia schools, revealing which met all 29 criteria set by the federal government and made what is called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
It was a first for Buford—and for Charlottesville City Schools as a whole—to make AYP. Many of the criteria for AYP come from English and math scores on state tests, as well as figures like attendance rates. At least 73 percent of students in a district have to pass English tests and 71 percent have to pass math tests in order to make AYP.
But while one middle school celebrated, many other area middle schools got disappointing news. Four of five Albemarle County middle schools did not make AYP. Where many districts run into trouble is that all sub-groups—such as African-American students, "Limited English Proficiency" students or special ed students—have to hit the passing rate. As a whole, county schools fell short because not enough "disadvantaged" students passed English and math tests.
"In math, we missed it by 11 students. Eleven," says Bruce Benson, the county’s assistant superintendent for student learning. "We have 12,460 students, and we missed it by 11. In reading, we missed it by 55, which in a division our size isn’t a large number of students. But it really emphasizes the issue that every kid counts. …We’re going to make it next year."
"We know that our middle schools are a place that we need to put additional resources," Benson says. "We’ve already begun conversations with our principals that will cause our data to look different when we have this conversation next year."
Stakes are even higher for schools like the city’s Johnson Elementary, a Title I school that receives significant federal funding because 85 percent of students are considered poor. As the federal government has so much funding leverage, it can impose significant penalties on underperforming Title I schools, including taking them over if they don’t meet standards in five years.
In the 2005-06 school year, Johnson did not make AYP. But for 06-07, 89 percent of students passed English tests, up from 68, and 87 percent passed math tests, up from 67.
"[Teacher] morale is really at a high level, and people are really excited," says Johnson’s new principal, Vernon Bock. "The results are great, but we can’t rest until we’re at 100 percent, because if we’re not, there are students who are not passing and not achieving."
The state itself failed to make the grade, largely because of the limited English students.
Local schools that didn’t meet federal standards in 2006-07
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