Changes could be coming to the state's accreditation system that would benefit schools where progress is being made on Standards of Learning tests and other benchmarks.
The state Board of Education is considering changes to the current accreditation ratings system that gives schools a status of "fully accredited," "partially accredited" with some conditions or "denied accreditation."
The changes would add several benchmarks to the accreditation matrix. Progress, instead of just pass rates for SOL tests, would be measured.
Under the new system, benchmarks would be given three different levels. Meeting or exceeding the standard, such as a 75 percent pass rate on the English SOL, would be Level One. A range considered "near" the standard would be Level Two; in the English SOL's case, a range above 65 percent pass rate. Level Two could also include improving a certain percentage amount over the previous year, a sign that growth is still happening.
Level Three would indicate that the current year, or in some benchmarks' cases, a three-year average, was below the benchmark or not showing improvement.
"Never before have we looked at student progress in terms of accreditation," Brian Nichols, chief academic officer for Newport News Public Schools, told the School Board recently. "A kid may not actually pass an SOL test with that magic 400, but they've moved from a 317 to a 367. That's worth something. That's worth recognition for the student, with that growth mindset piece. It's worth something to the school that you've moved that kid further along in the journey."
Growth and progress of other factors would be included in the accreditation rating, too. Performance of subgroups such as special education and minority students, long a factor in federal accountability, also will be a barometer of student achievement.
Chronic absenteeism — as in, how many days a student misses, excused or not — also will be a factor. The current proposal would be based on how many students miss 10 percent, or in most local cases, 18 days, per year. This factor would apply to elementary and middle schools.
NNPS and Hampton City Schools are working to keep students learning in their classrooms, both Nichols and John Caggiano, deputy superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, said.
"I think that we recognize in Hampton City Schools it's difficult to learn if you're not present. For quite some time we have focused on attendance and absenteeism," he said, which means working with community agencies and other groups to find ways to help students get to school. "We don't anticipate many Level Twos or any Level Threes when you look at that rate. We anticipate an overwhelming majority of our schools falling into Level One."
For the first time, dropout rates would be added to the graduation component for high schools' accreditation. The proposed Level One range is between 3 and 5.9 percent, with Level Two being between 6 and 8.9 percent.
Based on data from the 2016 school year — 2017's is not yet available — every Peninsula area high school would fall into Level One.
The final, and most still undetermined, factor is the College-, Career- and Civic-Ready Indicator. The state still is working to determine how best to judge that metric, which would not be applied to schools until the 2021-22 school year.
Factors being considered include the number of students receiving credit for advanced coursework; the number of students receiving a career and technical education credential; and the number of students successfully completing a work-based or service learning experience. Under the proposal, the unduplicated count of those students would be divided by the number of students in that year's graduating class.
The tiers that would consist of Levels One, Two and Three is still to be determined.
All of the tiered levels for the accreditation factors would then determine how a school is rated for the year. Schools for which all indicators fell into Level One or Two would be "accredited," and the term "fully accredited" would be done away with.
Schools with any indicator that fell into Level Three would be "accredited with conditions," and accreditation would be denied if a school failed to implement a corrective action plan in coordination with the state.
Officials in Hampton and Newport News anticipate that the system would allow schools that may not currently be fully accredited to be recognized for gains they've made.
Lindsay Middle School in Hampton is currently partially accredited as a reconstituted school, meaning it was slated to be denied accreditation as it was in its fourth year of not meeting the benchmarks for full accreditation.
The school division appealed to instead be partially accredited. The application, in part, highlighted Principal Chevese Thomas' work in bringing up other struggling schools in its rationale for partial accreditation.
Based on spring results, Thomas, in her first year at Lindsay, said that scores — which last year were at 63 percent pass rate in English, 74 percent in math, 70 percent in history and 57 percent in science — have increased. But if they don't meet the 75 percent pass rate in English and 70 percent in science required by the state for full accreditation, they could find themselves again slated for denial.
The new system would enable the school to get credit for work done toward those standards, even if the final numbers fall a few percentage points shy.
"When I look at Lindsay, we've done nothing but trended up," Thomas said. "But the public will look at Lindsay and say 'They're not accredited, they're not making benchmarks.' We can go to this model, then people can say, 'Look at all of the gains they're making and they're a progressing school.'
"When we go to this new guideline, it tells a better story about how hard we're working and the gains we're making. They're seeing we might be almost there. It's almost like you're a track star and trying to beat a certain time. I might not get to this particular time, but look at how much I've increased."
The current plan for the implementation of the proposal would have schools operating under whichever system benefited them more during the 2017-18 school year. All schools would use it in 2018-19, with the exception of the College-, Career- and Civic-Ready Indicator.
The state Board of Education will vote on the proposal in October or November, Nichols said.
Hearings hosted by the board about the proposed changes are underway across the state. Officials in Newport News and Hampton are planning to attend the closest one in Virginia Beach at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 9 at 4633 Honeygrove Road. For more information or to sign up to speak, visit bit.ly/2sSiKHx.
Hammond can be reached by phone at 757-247-4951.