Education beat: SOL reform passes House and other school news

Henley Middle School student Cole Roberts introduces facilitator Bernard Whitsett at an M-Cubed etiquette workshop last week. Photo: Tim Shea Henley Middle School student Cole Roberts introduces facilitator Bernard Whitsett at an M-Cubed etiquette workshop last week. Photo: Tim Shea

Our Education Beat coverage appears thanks to a partnership with Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Students in Charlottesville-Albemarle are one step closer to taking fewer Standards of Learning exams during their academic careers. House Bill 930, which proposes a 23 percent reduction in the amount of state SOL tests students take between grades three through eight, passed the Virginia House of Delegates last week.

“This measure is not only good policy,” said Charlottesville Delegate and House Minority Leader David Toscano, “but will save localities and the Commonwealth money.”

The Virginia Department of Education estimates that the reduction in tests will save the Commonwealth $3 million a year, starting in FY 2015.

If adopted in its current form, third graders would skip science and social studies SOLs, and would focus only on reading and math tests. Fifth graders would take reading, math, and science SOLS, but not writing or two history tests that are usually given in either fifth or sixth grade.

The bill would still require local school divisions to administer alternative assessments in those courses, a move for which both divisions have been preparing.

Gertrude Ivory, Assistant Superintendent of Charlottesville City Schools, said a goal of the division’s strategic plan includes creating one project-based assessment for each grade level or course by August 2014. “We will continue the efforts we have already started in this area,” Ivory said. “We will research best practices in alternative assessment, provide professional development to our staff, work collaboratively with teachers and administrators to design assessments that give us the best information to guide instruction and gauge the progress of our students.”

While the bill would not make any changes to tests at the high school level, the county school division has been piloting an alternative assessment—the College and Workforce Readiness Assessment, a task-based test that measures students’ critical, analytical, and creative thinking skills—since the spring of 2012.

The bill is now headed to the Senate.

Mentoring group addresses academics socially

In partnership with Albemarle County Public Schools and State Farm Insurance, 100 Black Men of Central Virginia—a non-profit mentoring organization in Charlottesville-Albemarle—is working to bolster the amount of African-American males who complete algebra in middle school. To that end, the group has started M-Cubed, which stands for “math, men, and mission.”

While the program hopes to improve math achievement, it also addresses the overlap between social and academic skills. Bernard Hairston, Albemarle’s Executive Director of Community Engagement, said the mentoring and social experiences M-Cubed provides—such as college visits, films, and dining experiences—fuels student confidence, and ultimately closes the achievement gap.

And it’s working. In 2008, the year before M-Cubed began, 80 points separated African-American males from white males on middle school math Standards of Learning exams. Within two years, African-American males’ scores jumped 24 points. Additionally, M-Cubed participants are consistently out-performing their peers who are not enrolled in the program. Two out of three participants are enrolled in advanced and honors level math courses, whereas one out of four non-participants are enrolled in these courses. What’s more is that the academic improvement holds over time. According to Measures of Academic Performance test scores, 90 percent of program participants show year-to-year growth, compared to 68 percent of their peers.

In addition to group outings, each student meets individually with his mentor. Wendell Green, a mentor and special education teacher at Albemarle High School, said building personal relationships with the students leads to academic growth.

Jack Jouett Middle School 7th grader Marquan Jones said the program has helped him develop into a better listener and set high expectations for himself. Burley parent Kim Washington said she’d like to see the positive male role models help her son become more outgoing.

As her son matures, Crozet Elementary parent Monica Brooks plans to raise her expectations too. “They do go up, and as they do he’ll get better,” Brooks said. “That’s the only way he’s going to get better.”

William Morse. Photo: Tim Shea

MEET YOUR EDUCATOR: William Morse, Training Director, Albemarle County Public Schools

How do you support student learning from outside the classroom?

I oversee the training of new bus drivers and provide professional development opportunities for the transportation department. In addition to getting our students safely to and from school, we also emphasize student management training opportunities. Working with Safe Schools/Healthy Students and school administrators, transportation has made a concerted effort to improve the behavior of students on the school bus, envisioning their ride home as an extension of their school day.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

As a state-certified trainer, I have personally trained new bus drivers. I don’t just sit in the office working on the computer.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?

Scheduling. Bus drivers and assistants have a narrow window in the middle of their day to attend classes. Our trainers are mostly lead bus drivers with a number of competing draws on their time, and the weather in the wintertime always plays havoc.

Why did you choose to perform your job in the schools and not in another industry?

I started out as a bus driver and have a sense of loyalty to my colleagues. This is an excellent opportunity to give back to those that helped me as a rookie.


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