More than three in five Virginia public schools were labeled as failing after falling short of a benchmark established under No Child Left Behind, a drastic increase that led the state's superintendent to call for an overhaul of the education law.
The percentage of Virginia schools that failed to demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress defined under No Child Left Behind soared from 39 percent last year to 62 percent this year. No Child Left Behind establishes annual targets stipulating how well students must score on standardized tests to avoid being labeled as failing. The standard rises every year, and this year Virginia schools needed at least 86 percent of students had to show proficiency on state reading tests and at least 85 percent to pass math tests.
Patricia I. Wright, Virginia's superintendent of public instruction, said the huge discrepancy between this year's failure rates and last year's demonstrated the unreasonable expectations No Child Left Behind places on schools by demanding constant demonstrable progress in test scores.
"While this is a laudable goal -- one we must continue to strive toward -- it is not a basis for a workable accountability system," Wright said in a statement.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan acknowledged that criticism this week as he announced that he would grant states waivers exempting them from the Adequate Yearly Progress requirement, effectively bypassing Congress to do so. Schools are expected to achieve 100% proficiency in state tests by 2014, a goal that Duncan said would lead to a "slow-motion train wreck" as most schools were designated as failing.
Wright said that she will seek relief under the waiver program. For Virginia to obtain a waiver, it will need to demonstrate a commitment to pursuing some of the Obama administration's education reform priorities. While Duncan has yet to lay out the specifics, in the past the administration has incentivized measures such as expanding access to charter schools and increasing teacher accountability by tying hiring and firing to test scores.
"During the coming weeks, I will begin a discussion with the state board on creating a new model for measuring yearly progress that maintains high expectations for student achievement, recognizes growth -- overall and by subgroup -- and accurately identifies schools most in need of improvement," Wright said.