Testing benchmarks becoming unobtainable

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Galax’s school superintendent joins the chorus of educators who say “No Child Left Behind” needs to be abandoned.

By April Wright, Reporter

As standards continue to rise for Adequate Yearly Progress, the benchmarks are becoming more and more unobtainable, said Galax Schools’ Superintendent Bill Sturgill.
“No Child Left Behind served as a great platform to encourage high expectations for schools,” said Sturgill. “But benchmarks of 100 percent are unrealistic... By design, No Child Left Behind has ran its course.”
The federal education act known as No Child Left Behind establishes rising benchmarks on math and reading tests each year. The goal is for schools to achieve 100 percent pass rates by 2014.
None of the Galax schools nor the division met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) this year, and only four out of more than 130 divisions statewide achieved AYP.
This year’s AYP benchmarks required schools to achieve 86 percent on English tests and 85 percent on math tests. Last year’s targets were 81 percent in reading and 79 percent in math.
Galax schools’ scored 86.14 percent for English; and 81.13 percent in math.
However, meeting AYP is also based on 29 standards, such as how well subgroups performed on Standards of Learning tests, graduation rates, attendance rates and participation rates on SOL tests.
Galax City Public Schools has an attendance rate of 95.61 percent, better than the 94 percent is required.
The division has a graduation rate of 82 percent, higher than the 80 percent is required.
Galax has a 100 percent participation rate on SOL tests.
Subgroups include white, black, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, special needs and limited English proficiency. An individual student may fall into multiple subgroups.
Sturgill said the system is concerned with two subgroups in particular — special needs and limited English proficiency. The limited English proficiency subgroup scored 71 percent on English and 63 percent on math; the special needs subgroup scored 60 percent on English and 60 percent on math.
Despite concerns over unobtainable goals, Sturgill said that the advantage of Standards of Learning tests and benchmarks allow Galax schools to review the data and identify the strengths and weaknesses of the students. This allows administrators and faculty to make improvements to programs and alter and establish goals to improve education.
“Once we have compiled all the results of the data, we will enlist the support of administration and faculty at each school, and the plan is to come together and look at the data that is specific to each school and devise a long-term plan — a 3- or 5-year plan — to enhance education at Galax schools,” said Rebecca Cardwell, assistant superintendent.
The plan will look at professional development, training for staff and specific remediation for students.
Statewide, more than 60 percent of Virginia’s public schools failed to meet federal AYP benchmarks.
Last year, 61 percent passed statewide, but that has sharply fallen to 38 percent. As a result, school boards around Virginia have signed a resolution requesting that school systems be granted relief and suspension of sanctions of No Child Left Behind.
The resolution — signed by school boards in Galax, Carroll and Grayson — 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.”
In 2010, Galax Elementary and Galax High School met AYP standards.
Galax schools are accredited. In order to receive state accreditation, schools have to have a 70 percent pass rate in reading and a 75 percent pass rate in math, English, science and history. Galax schools expect state accreditation this year.