Superintendent: Education law unfair, unrealistic

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The latest Adequate Yearly Progress results again call into question the federal No Child Left Behind Act


INDEPENDENCE — Three of seven Grayson County schools met federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) benchmarks, according to 2010-11 data released by the Virginia Department of Education this month.
For the third year in a row, Baywood and Fairview elementaries passed all testing criteria to achieve AYP,  a component of the federal “No Child Left Behind” law enacted in 2001 that set incrementally rising benchmarks on math and reading assessments with the intent of achieving 100 percent pass rates by 2014.
Also achieving AYP was Grayson County High School — a success for the school, which did not meet all the benchmarks in 2010.
The performance of all students and those in six subgroups — white, black, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, special needs and English Language Learners — is measured annually.
As reported on Monday in The Gazette, no local school division — and only four out of more than 130 divisions statewide — achieved AYP this year.
The federal law is being called into question by educators across Virginia, who say it sets unrealistic and unattainable goals. Earlier this summer, school boards in Grayson, Carroll and Galax joined other school systems in Virginia in signing a resolution calling for a revision of “No Child Left Behind.”
“The federal accountability system is unrealistic and it unfairly identifies and penalizes schools for being underperforming,” said Schools Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas. “We have a multitude of indicators showing that our students are accomplishing academic growth and progress in all of our Grayson County schools.
“We are particularly proud of the high performance at Grayson County High School, which is one of the few high schools in the region to make AYP.”
Four Grayson schools — Independence Elementary, Independence Middle, Fries School and Grayson Highlands — did not meet all federal benchmarks, though they came close.
Of the 29 AYP elements required for federally-mandated success, Independence Elementary students passed 27; Independence Middle, 28; Fries School, 25; and Grayson Highlands, 23.
Two schools, Fries and Independence Elementary, face sanctions. Schools that receive Title I funding to serve low-income populations must make transfers available to students when the schools fail to make AYP for two consecutive years. Both schools, which are in their second year of improvement initiatives, also must offer supplemental education services, such as tutoring.
This year’s AYP benchmarks were 86 percent and 85 percent pass rates in the Standards of Learning reading and math assessments, respectively. Last year’s targets were 81 percent in reading and 79 percent in math.
Statewide, more than 60 percent of Virginia’s public schools failed to meet federal AYP benchmarks.
The steep decline from 2010, when 61 percent passed statewide, to a 38 percent pass rate this year has Virginia’s schools chief questioning the usefulness of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation and calling for its overhaul.
“In just three years, Virginia schools will have to have 100 percent pass rates in both reading and mathematics — and for all student subgroups — to make AYP under the current system,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Pat Wright said in a news release. “While this is a laudable goal — and one we must continue to strive toward — it is not a basis for a workable accountability system.”
Wright said the state board of education will seek a waiver of key provisions of the law for the coming school year.
The Grayson County School Board and school administrators already have challenged the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as “No Child Left Behind.”
In June, the board approved a resolution requesting that school systems be granted regulatory relief and the suspension of sanctions considering that the current law is “widely recognized as flawed and in need of improvement.”
The resolution urges the Department of Education “to relieve school districts from the constraints of current statutes, keeping schools from being held hostage while Congress moves forward with complete reauthorization.”

Landmark News Service contributed to this story.