2009-01-07 / Front Page

Making progress

Report shows gains, losses in student achievement
By Donna C. Gregory NEWS EDITOR

Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Bensley Elementary teacher Sherry Nyquist reads a book to her first-grade class about holiday traditions in Mexico. In addition to various cultural activities, the county's school system is adding world language classes at more elementary schools each year.
There was both good news and bad news coming from county schools as administrators presented the 2008 annual progress report during a school board work session last month.

County schools have made gains when it comes to accreditation and attendance, but still have more work to do in the areas of graduation rates, employing more minorities and achieving advanced pass rates on Standards of Learning (SOL) tests.

Below are highlights from the progress report. To view the entire 72-page report, visit www.chester and click on the link for "special."

• For the first time last year, all county schools achieved full accreditation from the state.

• Only 84 percent of county schools made annual yearly progress (AYP) as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, down from 94 percent the previous year. Each year, the legislation requires school systems to raise achievement levels, making it more difficult to make AYP. The school system's greatest weaknesses in achievement are in the students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged student categories.

• A new policy has helped boost attendance rates of elementary and middle school students. Ninety-seven and 96 percent of those students respectively met advanced targets for attendance. The high school attendance rate remained stable at 95 percent.

• Twenty-six percent of middle school students are enrolled in world language, up from 23 percent the previous year.

• The number of graduates earning industry certification in technical education rose by 82 percent, from 176 students to 389.

• The percentage of students reading on grade level remained steady at 90 percent.

• Overall, students performing on grade level in mathematics rose four points to 87 percent. However, only 67 percent of the students with disabilities subgroup reached that same level.

• Eighty-nine percent of students overall are writing at grade level, but students with disabilities again underperformed, coming in at only 61 percent.

• An additional 112 at-risk students received preschool education last year, an increase of 36 percent over the previous year.

• The school system was one point shy of meeting its on-time graduate rate goal of 85 percent.

• County schools continue to increase the availability of world language in elementary schools. Last year, 18 percent of elementary students had access to world language compared to only 6 percent the previous year.

• Big gains were made in the number of eighth-grade students who completed algebra I, up to 51 percent from 38 percent the previous year. Those numbers will continue to increase as the school system phases in algebra I for all eighth graders.

• Graduates earning AP, IB or dual enrollment credits inched up one point to 44 percent.

• The number of students passing SOL tests in the advanced range also ticked upward, from 35 percent to 37 percent.

• The number of students taking and passing an online course remained the same at 17 percent.

• AP course takers earning a score of three or better actually declined from 51 percent to 49 percent, falling far short of the school system's proficient target of 65 percent.

• Sixty-four percent of students were considered to be of "normal weight" last year compared to 62 percent the previous year.

• Only 15 percent of county students were suspended or expelled last year, down from 19 percent the previous year.

• The number of minority instructional staff increased one point to 13 percent, but is still short of the school system's proficient goal of 15 percent.

School calendar adopted

Parents can get a jump on their travel plans for the next school year since the school board has approved the 2009-10 calendar for students. The calendar calls for 181 student days with school beginning after Labor Day on Sept. 8 and ending June 18. See box for more details.

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