Galax schools working to meet new standards

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Virginia was granted a waiver from some aspects of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but that has created new challenges.

By April Wright, Reporter

According to the No Child Left Behind Act’s new Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO), each subgroup of students will have a different target to meet based on the history of how those groups have performed, said Rebecca Cardwell, Galax Schools’ assistant superintendent.
That’s what makes AMOs different from the federal education act’s Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) benchmarks, which no longer apply in Virginia.
There will be three proficiency subgroups. Subgroup 1 will include students with disabilities, English language learners and the economically disadvantaged; Subgroup 2 will include African-American students; and Subgroup 3 will include Hispanic students. Individual subgroups also will include students with disabilities, English language learners, economically disadvantaged students, white students and Asian students.
For elementary and middle school students, all students must meet a test participation rate of 95 percent for reading and math; and meet AMO targets in reading and math, or reduce the failure rate by 10 percent.
For high school students, all students must meet a test participation rate of 95 percent for reading and math; meet AMO targets in reading and math or reduce the failure rate by 10 percent; and meet the federal graduation indicator.
Virginia was granted flexibility from key provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind education law. Because of this, AYP is no longer a benchmark in Virginia.
Last year, about 61 percent of Virginia’s public schools fell short on federal testing goals needed to achieve AYP, which required strict guidelines.
No local school divisions — including Galax — met AYP as a whole last year. Some individual schools did, but no city schools.
Under AYP, benchmarks seemed to become unrealistic, state educators argued when petitioning for the No Child Left Behind waiver. By 2014, the federal law would have been required 100 percent proficiency in math and English.
However, the AMOs set annual testing objectives that vary from school to school and among different groups of students.
Schools that don’t meet these objectives will have to undergo an improvement plan; and schools that do meet them will be recognized for their achievements.
Galax schools have begun implementing the program this fall semester.
Even the state’s Standards of Learning tests have been revised, along with the curriculum. This means new material that teachers will have to adjust to.
“It’s been a lot of hard work to make those changes, and we’ve been successful in implementing those into the instruction,” said Cardwell.
For example, Cardwell said some pieces of the math curriculum that were taught in the seventh grade are now taught in the fifth grade.
“The SOL tests have been redesigned with new questions and objectives,” she said. “It involves higher-order thinking skills and more reading, and some questions may require a two- or three-step process.”
The new math test was redesigned last year, and a new language arts test will be created this year.
Cardwell said middle and high school math teachers meet each week and develop plans together to revise and implement new strategies into the math curriculum.
The AMOs “are something we haven’t done before and a different challenge,” Cardwell told The Gazette. “It may take some time to meet the AMOs, but we will get there.”
Galax Superintendent Bill Sturgill said teachers are undergoing training to learn how to meet those new objectives.
“The goal is to help every child be successful, and we share that goal with the state department,” said Sturgill.
Sturgill said the challenge of this new program is that the schools do not have all the information from the state on how this is going to impact schools.
“Right now, the direction is not there, but we know it’s coming,” he said.
Cardwell said it seems that this program would provide more flexibility to allow students to be successful.     
“Our faculty is strong and very much wants our students to be successful,” said Cardwell.
Sturgill said the City of Galax and the Galax School Board are committed to moving students forward.
“We want them to grow mentally as well as emotionally,” said Sturgill. “And we will make adjustments to our teaching strategy to meet and exceed to requirements of the accountability system.”