Accreditation based on growth measures still unexceptional
Albemarle County Public Schools announced in September that all 24 schools in the division have been accredited for the 2022-23 school year, based on results from the state’s Standards of Learning (SOL) exams taken last spring in grades 3-12 plus other measures such as dropout rates, chronic absenteeism, and on-time graduation rates.
Accreditation is an assurance from a state agency that a school meets certain educational standards of quality. State-wide, 89% of schools were accredited by the Virginia Department of Education (DOE). Accreditation ratings were waived entirely by the DOE for the 2020 and 2021 school years due to pandemic-related issues.
While the topline news appears to be good, there are several levels of conditional accreditation that a school may receive, and four of Albemarle’s 24 schools have merited those lower statuses. Greer, Mountain View, Red Hill, and Woodbrook were “accredited with conditions,” meaning their overall pass rates in one or more student demographic groups did not meet state standards. A waiver may be issued if a school has met the standard for all demographic groups for the three prior consecutive years, but these schools did not meet that condition.
In addition, a further eight schools would have been “accredited with conditions” were it not for the waiver as described above—elementary schools Agnor-Hurt, Scottsville, and Stony Point; middle schools Burley and Journey; and high schools Albemarle, Monticello, and Western Albemarle. Western Albemarle, for example, was rated as fully accredited this year even though performance on math achievement tests is well below state standards for students with disabilities and those who are economically disadvantaged, because it is able to rely on a prior waiver.
An important element in interpreting accreditation ratings is that the DOE uses “adjusted” SOL pass rates to assign schools’ ratings, based on “recovery” and “growth” factors. A recovery adjustment means that if a student failed a spring SOL test but underwent immediate remediation in that subject and then retested and passed, that student counted as passing. A growth adjustment means that if a student failed a fall (baseline) SOL but then did better on the spring SOL (while still not passing), that student is also counted as having passed the test in rating the school.
For instance, Crozet Elementary was fully accredited with no conditions by the state in 2022, and its adjusted math SOL pass rate was 90%. That rate was determined by combining the 66% of students who passed the test (without adjustments) with another 6% who passed after recovery and a further 18% who were deemed “passing” by showing some amount of growth, totaling 90%.
The state standard cutoff for math SOL pass rates is 70% for accreditation purposes, so Crozet Elementary would have fallen below the standard without the use of the DOE adjustments. The same is true for the school’s English pass rates, which were 71% passing unadjusted, but 89% after adjustments, topping the 75% state English cutoff. In some conditionally accredited county schools such as Mountain View and Woodbrook, more than a quarter of the school population is identified via growth adjustments as “passing” while still failing the tests.
Governor Glenn Youngkin referred to this disparity when he commented on the DOE’s accreditation report this month. “This broken accountability system fails to provide a clear picture of the academic achievement and progress of our schools to parents, teachers, and local school divisions,” he said, noting that accreditation rates changed only slightly while SOL scores remained very low compared to pre-pandemic levels.
In a division press release, Albemarle schools superintendent Matt Haas took responsibility for the student test scores that led to the county’s tenuous accreditation outcome. “As superintendent and as a long-time staff member of this division, I own these results,” he said. “They are unacceptable and do not in any way reflect the efforts or abilities of our students, families and educators. They do reflect the inability of our current systems to produce the results we are seeking and clearly demonstrate the need for these systems to immediately change.”
Haas announced that the school division will engage an outside organization to conduct an independent audit of the division’s reading instructional program, its classroom practices, and its intervention and support models, as well as staffing. The audit, he explained, will lead to specific recommendations and actions for improvements. As well, the superintendent said he is appointing a task force of teachers, specialists, central office staff, and community partners to guide and assess the audit and to offer recommendations for short- and long-term improvements.
Enrollment Lower Than Projected
Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) Chief Operating Officer Rosalyn Schmitt reported to the School Board at its September 8 meeting that preliminary enrollments were up for the current 2022-23 school year, but only by about half as many students as had been projected. Total enrollment this year is 13,543, higher than the 13,418 of last year but less than the budgeted 13,648 students. In 2019-20, pre-pandemic, total enrollment was 14,032.
“Our largest increase as compared to last year was at Baker-Butler, which added 51 students, and Albemarle High School, which added 62 students,” said Schmitt. “Our middle schools did see a decrease. Some of that was anticipated as the outgoing eighth grade class was larger than the incoming fifth grade class. But two of the schools [Journey (formerly Jouett) and Lakeside (formerly Sutherland]) did not meet their projections.”
Henley Middle School’s enrollment is down by 28 students this year, from 835 to 807. Western Albemarle High School is down 18 students to 1,147. Brownsville and Crozet elementaries saw significant changes due to the latter school’s expansion and subsequent redistricting, with Brownsville decreasing by 177 and Crozet increasing by 191.
School Board member Kate Acuff asked about the current enrollment of second graders. “As I recall, when we had the ‘Covid dip’ in enrollment, two thirds of that dip was in elementary school, and about half of that was kindergarten,” said Acuff. “And I do see that our second graders now are the low number, so we didn’t get all those kindergarteners back.”
“Correct,” said Schmitt. “So, this second grade class, they were kindergarteners during the first [full, mostly remote] year of Covid.” The data showed 980 second graders enrolled division-wide, while the average projected elementary school class size is around 1,050. Overall enrollment dropped by 824 students to 13,208 during the 2020-21 school year, and has not yet recovered.