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Halifax County joins the majority on AYP / August 16, 2010
By failing to meet the federal standard for academic progress in the 2009-2010 school year, Halifax County public schools landed squarely among the 91 percent of Virginia school divisions that also came up short on AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress).

While Halifax school officials can take consolation in the large number of divisions struggling with the guidelines, the AYP results, released Thursday, also point to several areas of the local academic program that need work.

The division as a whole and three schools — South Boston Elementary, Halifax County Middle School and Halifax County High School — were tripped up by specific AYP benchmarks as spelled out under the No Child Left Behind law. At South Boston Elementary and HCMS, the problem was the failure of minority and disadvantaged student sub-groups to pass in sufficient numbers to satisfy federal guidelines. At the high school, the graduation rate fell short of the standard, resulting in HCHS getting slapped with a failing grade.

This year, the No Child Left Behind law ratcheted up the required rate of passage for all students in Reading/Language Arts and math. In math, 79 percent of all students are required to pass standardized tests, which in Virginia means the Standards of Learning exams (SOLs). The pass rate in Reading/Language Arts is 81 percent. The pass rates apply not only to entire schools, but also to student sub-groups within a school — such as white, black or Hispanic students, those deemed economically disadvantaged or limited English proficient, and students with disabilities.

In Halifax County, six of the seven elementaries — all of them federally funded Title I schools — made AYP by achieving the complete list of federal criteria for academic progress. The exception was the largest elementary school in the county, South Boston Elementary, which achieved passing scores in most categories but missed out on student sub-group achievement.

South Boston posted an overall 84 percent pass rate in English performance, higher than the required 81 percent mark. However, the share of black students passing English tests was only 75 percent, and for the economically disadvantaged subgroup it was only 77 percent.

The school also saw the Limited English Proficient subgroup fall short on the math benchmark, with an average passing rate of 73 percent, just short of the benchmark average of 79 percent. Overall, 92 percent of the student population at South Boston Elementary scored a passing grade.

At Halifax County Middle School, which also failed to make AYP last year, the problems were much the same. While the overall pass rate for all students in English was 86 percent — comfortably exceeding the 81 percent federal standard — the average for Hispanic students was 79 percent and for the Limited English Proficient subgroup it was only 54 percent.

In math, 79 percent of all HCMS students got a passing score, putting the school right at the required AYP mark, but the average for black students was only 73 percent; for Hispanics, 61 percent; for the economically disadvantaged subgroup, 72 percent; and for Limited English Proficient students, only 38 percent.

Halifax County High School failed to make AYP for a second straight year due to a different problem: inability to meet federal graduation guidelines.

“We thought we were going to make it,” said School Superintendent Paul Stapleton, “until May when they changed the graduation requirements.” For a high school to make AYP, the school must have a graduation rate of 80 percent with students earning a standard or advanced diploma within a four-year period, Stapleton noted. The four year requirement is new.

Last year, before the change was implemented, the graduation rate at HCHS was 61 percent. This year the four year graduation rate for whites was 78 percent, for blacks, 65 percent, Hispanics, 33 percent, for the economically disadvantaged, 61 percent; for students with disabilities, 14 percent. For the Limited English Proficient subgroup, the rate was 0 percent.

Of 1,836 public schools in Virginia, only 1,104 — or 60 percent — made AYP. With 132 school divisions, only 12 or nine percent of the divisions made AYP while 120 divisions did not. Halifax County was among the latter category.

Speaking at the School Board retreat on Friday, Stapleton noted that state accreditation scores, which he termed the most important, will be released in September. Stapleton said he believes that new requirements will replace the No Child Left Behind benchmarks for the coming year.

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