Albemarle pushes back against new accreditation system

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The Albemarle High School choir performs during a September 11 memorial service. Photo courtesy Charlottesville Tomorrow The Albemarle High School choir performs during a September 11 memorial service. Photo courtesy Charlottesville Tomorrow

Our regular Education Beat reporting is the result of a partnership with the nonprofit community news platform Charlottesville Tomorrow, which covers growth, development, public education, and local politics.

Virginia’s public schools have two accountability systems that determine whether a school and division become accredited. Accreditation by the state reflects pass rates in math, history and social sciences, English, and science Standards of Learning tests. At the high school level, graduation rates are considered as well.

Albemarle County Public School officials are concerned about the second system, Annual Measurable Objectives, (AMO), which meets federal accreditation requirements. Designed to reduce gaps in student performance, AMO divides the student population into subgroups, establishing 36 benchmark pass rates that increase each year, and which all subgroups must meet in order for a school to make AMO.

In previous years, schools earned AMO by meeting benchmarks, reducing the previous year’s fail rates by 10 percent, or by using a three-year average of pass rates. Now, schools must meet benchmarks or be within 5 percent of the previous year’s score, whichever is higher, or reduce last year’s fail rate by 10 percent. Schools may still use the three-year average, but not if they met the benchmark the previous year.

This move could keep high-performing schools that score above benchmarks this year, but below their previous year’s score, from earning AMO. But it would allow lower-performing schools that score below benchmarks this year, but above the previous year’s score, to make AMO by using the three-year average.

“You try to believe that the state is trying to do what’s best,” Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun said. “But when you look at methodology like this, you have to think that they’re trying to fail people.”

AMO data is due out from the Virginia Department of Education on September 17.

CHS students receive top academic honors

Three Charlottesville students learned last week that they are among the top high school students in the country. Charlottesville High School seniors Samantha Brown, Malloy Owen, and Shaarada Srivatsa have been named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists—an honor that less than 1 percent of the nation’s pupils receive.

The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition through which students who earn top scores on the Preliminary SAT test can earn recognition and scholarships.

The students said they felt that the critical thinking skills CHS emphasized prepared them to do well.

“The way the classes have been conducted has been really good for me developing as a thinker,” Malloy Owen said. “The PSAT and SAT are supposed to measure reasoning ability, not knowledge, so I do think the texts I’ve been exposed to and the work I’ve had to do here has improved my reasoning abilities.”

Owen plans to study the social sciences, Srivatsa is interested in Spanish and medicine, and Brown wants to pursue engineering or computer programming.

Finalists and winners are announced in February and March 2014, respectively.

Kiersten Luther. Photo courtesy Charlottesville Tomorrow

MEET YOUR EDUCATOR 
Kiersten Luther, German teacher, Albemarle High School

In your eyes, what is the biggest challenge facing education currently?

One of the biggest challenges facing education currently is the necessity to differentiate instruction for all students. Students come to school with different background knowledge, learn in different ways and at different speeds, have different strengths and weaknesses, yet they often receive the same instruction and are expected to produce the same result. Many teachers find it challenging (time-wise, at least) to plan and incorporate individualized instruction for each student. Successful differentiation strategies have been implemented by some teachers, but I believe this issue remains a challenge for many.

I expect that the tablets that we will be implementing into the German classes this year will allow us to better differentiate for students, whether it’s by simply changing the size of the font for some students or by allowing students to choose how many times they listen to an audio clip. I look forward to facing this challenge in the 2013-2014 school year and in the future.

What teaching adjustments do you plan to make moving forward?

Moving forward, I’m looking to incorporate much more technology into my instruction. This year is an exciting year for the AHS German department because my colleague, Ruth Trice, and I will be incorporating tablets into the classroom experience daily. I’m hoping to engage students even more through the use of technology in the classroom. As I plan lessons for this year, I will be thinking carefully about how these technologies can enhance instruction as well as expedite the language learning process for students.

I also hope to differentiate for students better this year and to give students more choices. I’d like to give students the option of using technology to do activities, assignments, and projects. The tablets will be helpful in differentiating for students due to the personalization opportunities they offer.

In your eyes, what is the biggest challenge facing education currently?

One of the biggest challenges facing education currently is the necessity to differentiate instruction for all students. Students come to school with different background knowledge, learn in different ways and at different speeds, have different strengths and weaknesses, yet they often receive the same instruction and are expected to produce the same result. Many teachers find it challenging (time-wise, at least) to plan and incorporate individualized instruction for each student. Successful differentiation strategies have been implemented by some teachers, but I believe this issue remains a challenge for many.

I expect that the tablets that we will be implementing into the German classes this year will allow us to better differentiate for students, whether it’s by simply changing the size of the font for some students or by allowing students to choose how many times they listen to an audio clip.  I look forward to facing this challenge in the 2013-2014 school year and in the future.

 

BULLETIN BOARD

Charlottesville back-to-school nights: On Tuesday, September 17, the following Charlottesville schools will hold back-to-school nights: Clark Elementary, 5:30pm; Greenbrier Elementary, 6-8pm; Jackson-Via Elementary will hold a family dinner from 5:30-7:30pm and a PTO meeting at 6pm; Johnson Elementary, 6pm; Venable Elementary, 5:30pm. Burnley-Moran Elementary School’s back-to-school night will be on Thursday, September 19, from 5:30-7:30pm.

Albemarle back-to-school nights: On Tuesday, September 17, the following Albemarle schools will hold back-to-school nights: Cale Elementary, 6-7:30pm; Red Hill Elementary, 6:30-8pm; Scottsville Elementary, 6:30-8pm. Stony Point Elementary School will hold 3 events: Pre-K, 5:30-6pm; State of the School Address, 6-6:30pm; Grades K-5, 6:30-7:45.

ACPS Parent Council Meeting: The Albemarle Parent Council will hold its first meeting of the year on Wednesday, September 18, from 7-9pm in room 320 of the County Office Building. The group meets on the third Wednesday of each month, from September-May, and community members are welcome to attend. Wednesday’s meeting will focus on Council procedures and updates on school happenings since the last meeting.

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