A Change in Accreditation: Accounting for Student Growth

New accreditation standards for the state of Virginia that will be implemented before the 2020-2021 school year.

Menchville holds the distinction of being the only high school in Newport News that has been continuously accredited by the State of Virginia for over 10 years. However, new accreditation requirements may have an impact on Menchville’s future success. According to Assistant Principal for Instruction, Michelle Banks, the school is, “being proactive in ensuring that we begin to meet these requirements now, rather than later.”

The Virginia Department of Educations (VDOE) finalization of reforms concerning graduation requirements and school accreditation status will reprioritize previous school guidelines instituted in the 90’s that were based on the sole outcomes of SOL tests meeting benchmark standards.  Changes in the states accreditation system for the 2017-2018 school year will focus more on measuring student growth on annual Standards of Learning (SOL)  Tests instead of enforcing strict pass rates. Under the new reforms, schools across the state will broaden the limbs to which they claim accountability for with the state, taking into account the initiatives of: achievement gaps, drop out/graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, SOL progress, and technical/advanced course credits.

“Currently, under our existing system, if a school is fully accredited there is no state signal that they need to do better — that they need to continue to work to get better. And I think the new system does that by giving evidence of where even our highest performing schools can do better,” commented Virginias Superintendent of Public Instruction, Steven Staples, in a Youtube video about the new guidelines.

In an attempt to mend unintended problems such as not accounting for student progress, overemphasizing test preparation, and ignoring recruitment barriers in failing schools – the divisions new focus will look at recognizing students who are under benchmark standards, but are still striving to make achievements. Loosening the leash on teacher curriculums to bring more communication/analytical thinking skills into classes is also an objective community leaders have suggested to VDOE.

Accreditation standards will now provide a comprehensive and fair picture of school quality, and for Menchville, this means focusing more effort into the areas of chronic absenteeism and GAP groups. GAP groups deal with making strides with subgroups in the school community that may face certain socio-economic disadvantages – and ensuring that they are showing achievement growth.

“Looking at the trend of kids who miss a lot of school in elementary and middle – that trend tends to continue in high-school. Working with parents in getting them to understand that their kids need to be here will be a big component. Our attendance rate is actually top in the city, so we are very, very proud about that,” commented Banks.

Implementation of these standards will begin with verified credit reforms for graduation; dropping the number from six to five for standard diplomas, and nine to five for advanced studies. Performance based Assessments for History/Social Science and Writing courses will be pushed to ensure students can properly apply the knowledge they’ve learned. And to increase career exploration, exposure to careers will now begin in elementary-school, pushing students to begin planning in middle-school, and later open opportunities for students to experience externships in high-school.