Albemarle analyzing changes to school accreditation

Recent changes to the state’s accreditation standards factor in when students make significant improvement on Standards of Learning English and math tests, even if those students don’t pass the exams.

Patrick McLaughlin, chief of strategic planning for Albemarle County Public Schools, recently updated the county School Board members on the changes.

The groups that also will be considered under the new rules include students with disabilities and those with socioeconomic disadvantages. The state also now factors chronic absenteeism, graduation rates, dropout rates and other post-graduation indices.

Next academic year, multiracial students will be added as a subset. Previously, schools were rated based on overall test scores for full accreditation.

Maintaining accreditation is something Albemarle schools know all too well. Two years ago, the county voted to close Yancey Elementary School, and its loss of accreditation arguably factored into part of the decision. Yancey’s 110 students were split between Scottsville and Red Hill Elementary schools.

Board member Katrina Callsen asked McLaughlin if he likes the accountability changes.

McLaughlin answered that the new standards put a spotlight on students who can be marginalized, allowing the district to focus on achievement gaps.

“Let’s say a school had 1,000 students and only 50 of them were African Americans,” he said in an interview. “Of these 1,000 kids that you had, 95% of them were doing well, but 5% of them weren’t.”

He said that the state previously would have agreed that there was an overall passing rate despite the fact that only 50% of the black student population passed.

He said the state hopes encouraging schools to address achievement gaps in those groups of students to maintain accreditation could help to solve equity issues.

“If any of these groups don’t meet that 70% or 75% threshold, then they are out of Level One. You can have any groups in Level One or Two and be fine and fully accredited,” he said. “But as soon as you get groups in Level Three, that’s when you could be triggered to be accredited with conditions.”

Students taking SOL tests either pass at an advanced or proficient level, or they fail. This year, Greer Elementary School is the only county school accredited with conditions, meaning the school has areas it needs to improve on, according to a district document.

In 2018 at Greer, 63% of black students scored below the 70% threshold. Fifty-nine percent of students with a disability scored below the 70% threshold, according to data released by the state. Those who are economically disadvantaged scored 2 points above the 70% threshold.

Eighty-four percent of white students scored above 70%; Asians, 93%; English for Language Learners, 90%; and Latinos, 83%.

Board members posed questions about how school staffers plan to make Greer fully accredited.

Superintendent Matt Haas said at the meeting that there’s a disproportionate number of minority teachers compared with the school’s minority student population.

“It’s far out of balance. … I believe, as we increase the diversity in the teaching staff, the school is going to perform better,” Haas said.

McLaughlin added that the state has received a comprehensive improvement plan for Greer.

“We’re [going to] give Greer the support that it needs, and we’re [going to] work with the principals there.”

Stephen Saunders, who has led Baker-Butler Elementary School for five years, recently was named principal of Greer, effective July 1.

At Baker-Butler, Saunders raised test scores and decreased achievement gaps among student demographic groups.