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Report Card Highlights Signs of Progress, Chronic Problems


Feb. 16, 2007– While this year's Department of Education territorial report card contains a few pleasant surprises, it also highlights some of the chronic trouble spots that have been plaguing the V.I. school system for years.
During a press conference Friday at the department's offices on St. Thomas, Education officials discussed areas of progress along with some longstanding challenges. According to the document, 16 out of 34 local public schools are meeting proficiency targets established in the areas of reading and math. That's a positive development.
However, according to the report, students with disabilities exhibited low participation and attendance rates during testing days, while overall performance scores for the territory's seventh-, eighth- and eleventh-graders are not as high as students tested in the third through sixth grades.
Because of these deficiencies, only seven schools in the territory were able to achieve the adequate yearly progress (AYP) standards set forth in the department's Accountability Workbook. AYP is achieved when a school meets all "accountability indicators."
Schools meeting AYP standards are Pearl B. Larsen and Ricardo Richards elementary schools, and St. Croix Educational Complex (on St. Croix); and Charlotte Amalie High School, and Gladys Abraham, Leonard Dober and Joseph Sibilly elementary schools (on St. Thomas).
Education officials explained that disabled students not coming to school on testing days severely affects participation scores among those students.
Because special education classes generally contain only a handful of students, percentages are drastically impacted when "one or two don't show up to school," said Lisa Hassell-Forde, acting St. Thomas-St. John superintendent of schools.
When asked whether dropout rates have an impact on the proficiency levels of upper school students, Assistant Education Commissioner Anya Sebastien said the department will begin to factor that type of information into next year's report card.
Since the department recently incorporated four new grade levels into the assessment process, the 2006-2007 reports sticks to evaluating student proficiency in reading and math, along with participation and attendance rates for students in the third through eighth, and 11th grades.
Acting commissioner of Education Lauren Larsen said that by including third-, fourth-, sixth- and eighth-grade students in the assessment process, the department has met at least one requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act. The act requires all jurisdictions receiving federal funds to establish and review "accountability indicators"– participation, attendance and proficiency rates — to determine student progress in reading and math.
At the end of 12 years, the ultimate goal is to have 95 percent of students performing at or beyond their grade level, Larsen said.
Sebastien added that for the 2006-2007 school year, overall proficiency targets in reading and math have been met "in nearly every grade level" tested.
Another requirement included in the act deals with teacher certification. During Friday's press conference, Education officials said they were "working to improve" in this area by increasing the number of "highly qualified" professionals working in local classrooms.
According to statistics included in the report card, only 104 out of 1,048 teachers (almost 10 percent) are "highly qualified," meaning that they are certified by the local Board of Education, hold a bachelor's degree and demonstrate subject-matter competency in each of the core academic subjects, which includes English, math, science and social studies.
On a more positive note, nearly 40 percent of these individuals, or 524 teachers, are certified.
"This is an area in which we still have much work to do," said Sebastien. While the department and the Board of Education have said they are working on creating alternative certification programs for local teachers, new requirements created for elementary teachers may prove problematic.
According to Alcess Lewis-Brown, Education's human resources director, elementary school teachers hired after 2001 must now take the Praxis II exam in order to achieve "highly qualified" status. "The federal government has said that the Praxis I exam will no longer work for teachers hired after that date," she said. "So we have about 400 teachers that need to take the test for the first time, and about 150 teachers that need to take it again."
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