The Albemarle High School choir performs during a September 11th memorial ceremony

Albemarle County Public Schools officials last week expressed concern over new methods of determining if a school meets federal accountability standards.

Virginia’s public schools have two accountability systems. Accreditation by the state reflects pass rates in math, history and social sciences, English, and science Standards of Learning tests. At the high school level, graduation rates are considered as well.

Albemarle County Public School officials are concerned about the second system, Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO), which meets federal accountability requirements. Designed to reduce gaps in student performance in math and reading, AMO divides the student population into subgroups, establishing 36 benchmark pass rates that increase each year, and which all subgroups must meet in order for a school to make AMO.

In previous years, schools earned AMO by meeting benchmarks, reducing the previous year’s fail rates by 10 percent, or by using a 3-year average of pass rates. Now, schools must meet benchmarks or be within 5 percent of the previous year’s score, whichever is higher, or reduce last year’s fail rate by 10 percent. Schools may still use the three year average, but not if they met the benchmark the previous year. 

This move could keep high-performing schools that score above benchmarks this year, but below their previous year’s score, from earning AMO. But it would allow lower-performing schools that score below benchmarks this year, but above the previous year’s score, to make AMO by using the three-year average.

“You try to believe that the State it trying to do what’s best,” Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun said. “But when you look at methodology like this, you have to think that they’re trying to fail people.”

AMO data is due out from the Virginia Department of Education on September 17. 

CHS students receive top academic honors

Three Charlottesville students learned last week that they are among the top high school students in the country. Charlottesville High School seniors Samantha Brown, Malloy Owen, and Shaarada Srivatsa have been named National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists—an honor that less than 1 percent of the nation’s pupils receive.

The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition through which students who earn top scores on the Preliminary SAT test can earn recognition and scholarships.

The students said they felt that the critical thinking skills CHS emphasized prepared them to do well.

“The way the classes have been conducted has been really good for me developing as a thinker,” Malloy Owen said. “The PSAT and SAT are supposed to measure reasoning ability, not kno.wledge, so I do think the texts I’ve been exposed to and the work I’ve had to do here has improved my reasoning abilities.”

Owen plans to study the social sciences, Srivatsa is interested in Spanish and medicine, and Brown wants to pursue engineering or computer programming.

Finalists and winners are announced in February and March 2014, respectively.