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New accreditation ratings mean more options for Virginia schools

Jane Hammond
Contact Reporterejhammond@dailypress.com
Three Peninsula-area schools would have been considered partially accredited last year if using the new guidel

Virginia released new accreditation guidelines for schools Tuesday — criteria that, if used last year, would have allowed three Peninsula-area schools to be partially accredited rather than being accredited "with warning."

The new guidelines provide seven tiers for schools to be "partially accredited." This is expanded from the three categories used last year: accreditation with warning, conditional accreditation or provisional accreditation.

The new tiers become effective Thursday.

The criteria include three categories each — "Approaching Benchmark," "Improving School" and "Warned School" — for the areas of SOL test results and graduation rates. The state Board of Education is expected to formally approve those categories later this month.

Those guidelines define "Approaching Benchmark" as being within two points of the full accreditation benchmark in both SOL test results or, for high schools, graduation rates. "Improving School" means that, year-over-year, schools make improvements in SOL or graduation rates. "Warned School" is for schools that are not making improvements in either SOL or graduation rates, yet have not failed to meet all accreditation guidelines.

A seventh category — "Reconstituted School" — is for schools that receive permission from the state to restructure in order to try to meet accreditation standards.

The new criteria would mean that, for the 2014-15 year, An Achievable Dream Middle/High School in Newport News would have been considered Partially Accredited: Approaching Benchmark, because it was just one point shy of meeting the criteria to be fully accredited in the mathematics portion of the Standards of Learning tests. Hampton's Bethel High School and Isle of Wight County's Carrollton Elementary could have qualified to be a Partially Accredited: Improving School.

Under the previous guidelines, those schools were lumped into the broad group of "accredited with warning." That same category includes local schools that failed to meet all SOL benchmarks last year: Lindsay Middle School in Hampton and Epes, Newsome Park and Sedgefield elementaries in Newport News.

"The state's decision to move to the model that recognizes progress instead of just a flat number that you hit, I think that's really a step in the right direction," said Brian Nichols, chief academic officer for Newport News Public Schools. "Within the previous system, a school that got a 74 in English would be the same as one that got a 34 in English. The approach you would take to those schools would be different. I think the tiered approach that the state department is putting forward helps the state but also school divisions differentiate and work differently with schools."

Schools can still be fully accredited or denied accreditation following the same benchmarks as before. New schools continue to qualify for a conditional accreditation, which allows for a one-year period to evaluate those schools.

The changed ratings came about as a result of legislation introduced in part by state Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. The goal was to require the state to better recognize schools that continue to improve but don't yet meet full accreditation standards.

Hampton City Schools Superintendent Jeffery Smith said that the new accreditation ratings do as the legislation intended.

"We appreciate the Virginia Board of Education's diligent work to amend the accreditation ratings to recognize schools that are making significant progress toward or within a narrow margin of becoming fully accredited," Smith said via email. "It is important to acknowledge the success of the schools. In particular, it is important to recognize the hard work of students and staff in making progress toward full accreditation without lowering the standard for full accreditation."

Hammond can be reached by phone at 757-247-4951.

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