Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) saw mixed results in its annual report card from the Virginia Department of Education (DOE), published last week.
In its School Quality Profiles, the DOE tracks school divisions and individual schools’ performance by a variety of measures. These include students’ scores on standardized tests, which gauge basic grade-level knowledge in English reading and writing, math, science and history. They also includes standardized measures under headings of college and career readiness, learning climate, teacher quality and school finance.
DOE uses some of these measures as the basis for assigning or denying school accreditation, this year according to a revised, more lenient methodology. Under the old classification, binary pass/fail rates on standardized tests for the student population taken as a whole almost exclusively determined ratings. The revised classification still looks at pass/fail rates. But it also takes into account trends of improvement, or lack thereof, over time; achievement gaps between demographic subgroups; absenteeism; and, for high schools, the dropout rate. Starting in 2021, the DOE will begin including a college, career and civic readiness index as well.
The new accreditation method uses a three-tiered rating system. Level One means a school meets the state’s benchmark for a given measure, or doesn’t meet the benchmark but is improving at a “sufficient” rate. Level Two means a school doesn’t meet the state’s benchmark, but is close or improving toward it. Level Three means a school is farther below the state’s benchmark, or has remained at Level Two for too many years running. If a school’s performance in the most recent year would earn it a lower rating, but its three-year average would earn it a higher rating, DOE grants the higher rating.
A school receives full accreditation if all applicable measures attain Level One or Level Two thresholds. It receives accreditation “with conditions” if one or more measures attains only to Level Three. It’s denied accreditation if it “fail[s] to adopt or fully implement required corrective actions to address Level Three school-quality indicators,” according to the DOE.
Fourteen of 16 ACPS campuses received full accreditation for the 2018-19 academic year, based on 2017-18 performance. None were denied accreditation. William Ramsay Elementary School and Francis Hammond Middle School moved from provisional accreditation statuses last year under the old system to full accreditation this year under the new system. Jefferson Houston School moved from a denied accreditation status to being accredited with conditions. T.C. Williams High School moved more or less laterally into the new system, receiving a status of accredited with conditions.
This upward movement indicates general improvement. But it doesn’t automatically mean previously failing schools are now meeting the state’s benchmarks, or that they aren’t meeting the benchmarks but regressing.
While all ACPS campuses received a Level One rating in overall English performance, five received Level Two or Three ratings for certain demographic subgroups.
Two ACPS campuses — Jefferson Houston and T.C. Williams — received less than a Level One overall rating in math, putting them in a club of only five percent of about 1,800 schools statewide. Of 14 ACPS schools receiving a Level One overall rating in math, nine received Level Two or Three ratings for certain demographic subgroups. Lower test scores from black students, economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities account for most of the lower ratings.
One ACPS campus — William Ramsay — received less than a Level One overall rating in science, putting it in a club of eight percent of schools statewide.
Some schools exceeded the state’s benchmark in certain areas, but show downward trends. For example, William Ramsay’s overall pass rate in 2017-18 for math was 66 percent, down from 81 percent in 2014-15 and below the state’s benchmark of 70 percent. Though it’s below standard and falling year on year, its three-year average pass rate of 72 percent still earned it a Level One rating in math.
T.C. Williams received Level Three marks for rates of dropout and composite graduation-and-completion — on-time diplomas, plus GED equivalencies, etc. These scores put it in clubs of nine and three percent, respectively, of 330 high schools statewide. Ten percent of T.C. Williams’ class of 2018 cohort dropped out. Eighty-three percent graduated or completed, according to the DOE. That’s down from 86 percent for the class of 2014 and below the state’s benchmark of 88 percent.
Year on year, on-time graduation rates (a slightly different measure) for Hispanic students, English learners, economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities decreased by as much as 11 percentage points. That’s according to an Oct. 1 ACPS memo. However, the graduation rate for black students increased two percentage points, reaching the highest level since 2011. The overall dropout rate improved by two percentage points. For black students, it improved by five points, reaching the lowest level on record.
T.C. Williams saw improvements in its Advanced Placement (AP) and Career and Technical Education (CTE) performance. In 2017-18, about a quarter of high school students enrolled in an AP course and took an AP test, up 10 percentage points from 2015-16, according to the DOE. Of students taking an AP exam in 2018, 72 percent received a passing score, up from 39 percent in 2005, according to Helen Lloyd, an ACPS spokesperson.
In 2017-18, 387 Students earned one or more CTE credentials, up 48 percent from 2015-16.
Recent trends may indicate certain disciplinary disparities between demographic subgroups. For example, between 2014-15 and 2016-17, black students consistently accounted for over half of short-term suspensions, while representing less than a third of the student population. White students consistently accounted for less than 10 percent, while representing about a quarter of the student population.
For more performance measures, visit www.schoolquality.virginia.gov/divisions/alexandria-city-public-schools.