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C H A P T E R 5 ————— Good Isn’t Good Enough It is a difficult challenge to maintain existing levels of student achievement, when a school system is growing and resources are not keeping pace. It is an even taller order to raise student achievement during such circumstances. This, however, is precisely the challenge that Fairfax County Public Schools has faced since the mid-’90s. The bar initially was raised by the state of Virginia, when it adopted new curriculum standards and highstakes tests aligned to the standards. Then the federal government followed suit with the No Child Left Behind Act. Chapter 5 takes a closer look at how Fairfax County Public Schools has responded to these initiatives. Richmond Sends a Message Irony is no stranger to politics. Still, Virginia educators could not help being puzzled when a Republican governor, George Allen—who had run on a campaign highly critical of the everexpanding reach of state government under his Democratic predecessors , set into motion the most comprehensive educational accountability initiative in state history. The initiative had the effect of increasing state control over virtually every aspect of local education.1 First came a revised set of curriculum requirements, referred to as the Standards of Learning (SOL). Accusations of partisan politics accompanied the drafting of the SOL. The Allen administration had pledged to rely on input from professional educators in developing the curriculum standards, but no sooner were recommendations received from teacher groups in four school systems, including Fairfax County, than Governor Allen’s handpicked Champion Schools Committee developed its own curriculum standards. On 119 June 22, 1995, the Virginia Board of Education approved the SOL for every grade in mathematics, science, and language arts. Action on social studies standards, the most controversial area of the K-12 curriculum, was postponed. The next step in Virginia’s accountability plan involved the development of standardized tests aligned to the SOL. The Virginia Department of Education contracted with Harcourt Brace to create and field test 27 tests. The plan called for students to be tested in English and reading, mathematics, science, and history at grades 3, 5, and 8. High school students would be tested at the completion of specific courses. Fifth and eighth graders also would be given a technology test. Graduation requirements were raised at this time, to 22 credits for a Standard Diploma and 24 credits for an Advanced Studies Diploma. Six of the 22 credits for a Standard Diploma and 9 of the 24 credits for an Advanced Studies Diploma had to be verified credits, meaning students had to earn a passing grade in a course and pass the state standardized test aligned to the course’s content. 120 Education Empire KEY DATES FOR FAIRFAX COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: 1995-2003 1995 Virginia Board of Education approves Standards of Learning 1997 Virginia Board of Education approves Standards for Accrediting Public Schools Daniel Domenech appointed Superintendent 1998 Success by Eight program is launched 1999 43 out of 203 FCPS schools meet new accreditation standards, based on state tests Project Excel is initiated 2001 75% of FCPS schools meet state accreditation standards Fairfax voters approve $378 million bond issue for capital improvements 2002 U.S. Congress passes No Child Left Behind Act 2003 Virginia Board of Education adopts plan for complying with No Child Left Behind On September 4, 1997, the Virginia Board of Education adopted a new set of Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia. The accreditation standards generated considerable controversy . A group of northern Virginia lawmakers, in fact, tried to derail Governor Allen’s initiative early in 1997. They feared that the accreditation standards reflected the antipublic-education views of political conservatives on the Virginia Board of Education (Hsu and O’Harrow, January 18, 1997). Richmond’s agenda, they speculated, might be to “set up local schools to fail,” thereby eroding support for public schools and paving the way for tuition vouchers for private schools. The northern Virginia lawmakers were unsuccessful in their efforts, and the new Standards of Accreditation (SOA) went into effect in the fall. Among other provisions, the SOA required every public school to achieve minimum passing rates on SOL tests in order to be fully accredited. Passing rates were to be determined by political appointees on the state Board of Education, not by educators. Beginning in 2004, students who failed to earn sufficient verified credits would be denied a high school diploma. Schools that did not achieve specified passing rates on SOL tests...


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