The Charlottesville School Board wants some students to receive greater flexibility when determining whether or not they have passed select state-mandated Standards of Learning exams.
Students who are English Language Learners should be given credit accommodations when their test scores fall just below passing, the School Board told Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, Wednesday during the board’s annual legislative meeting.
“Many of these students are just beginning to learn English, and some of them have life experiences that have deprived them of formal education,” said Beth Baptist, director of student services and achievement for Charlottesville City Schools. “It’s only reasonable to give these hard-working students some leeway.”
“These accommodations would recognize their progress instead of punishing them for their present limitations,” Baptist added, citing that the accommodations would only apply to students who are entering American schools for the first time in fifth grade or later.
Virginia high school students are already granted leeway in some subject areas.
When a student has taken a science or social studies SOL test at least twice and has scored between 375 and 399, that student is eligible for what lawmakers call “locally awarded verified credit,” and in 2013, the General Assembly extended that credit option to students with disabilities for English and math tests.
Affording English language learners the same flexibility would go a long way, schools officials said.
For example, during the 2013-14 school year, 11 Charlottesville High School students who were still learning English, and who fell within the 375 to 399 range in English and math, failed to graduate. Eight of those 11 students, school documents show, displayed regular attendance, missing fewer than 10 days of school.
Deeds said he understands the issue, but noted that in recent years the only SOL issues passed by the General Assembly have been recommended by the SOL Innovation Committee, which is currently considering how best to reform the SOLs.
The board also asked Deeds and Toscano to revisit how early childhood education dollars are spent at the state level, and encouraged them to minimize program start-up costs. What’s more, the division would like to use Virginia Preschool Initiative funding for three-year-old preschool programs. Currently, VPI funding can only be used on four-year-old preschool programs.
In addition to four-year-old classrooms that are 50 percent funded by VPI, Charlottesville has five locally-funded three-year-old classrooms that serve 74 kids.
With respect to the state’s per-pupil expenditure, School Board chairwoman Amy Laufer characterized current funding levels as “abysmal.”
Toscano said the board can expect Gov. Terry McAuliffe to address this in his proposed budget, but said that “all bets are off” once that budget is given to the House of Delegates and Senate for deliberation.
“He’s made it clear on a number of occasions that K-12 is a top priority in his budget,” Deeds added.
Addressed during last year’s legislative meeting, the noard encouraged Deeds and Toscano to revisit the accountability and assessment practices for students who live in foster care or a group home. At present, if a student living in foster care or a group home leaves Charlottesville and fails to re-enroll in their home district, that student counts against Charlottesville’s dropout rate.
“It doesn’t make sense that you should take the heat and the hit if the person is only there for one week,” Toscano said.
The Charlottesville School Board meets again Thursday at 5:00 p.m. at Charlottesville High School.