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Va. Parents To Receive School 'Report Cards' Under New Mandate

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Every public school in Virginia will be required to provide detailed information to parents on student test scores and crime statistics under a plan approved this month by the state school board.

Five other states--Florida, Oklahoma, Maryland, Texas, and Wisconsin--currently issue report cards on the academic performance of individual schools.

But Virginia will join only Florida in including statistics on drug use and school safety and security in reports to parents, said Rolf Blank, a researcher with the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington.

The two-page annual report cards are to be issued for the first time next fall.

They will require each of Virginia's 1,812 public schools to provide parents with the results of the state's new Standards of Learning tests in English, math, science, and history, which 3rd, 5th, and 8th graders will take for the first time this spring.

Parents will also receive information on the percentage of students who miss fewer than 10 days of school and the percentage of instructors who have a valid teacher's license.

The report cards will also chronicle for parents the incidences of physical violence, weapons possession, and student drug use at their children's schools. In most cases, schools will include data on previous years so that parents and community members can judge whether academic performance and safety conditions are improving.

"This is an accountability tool so parents can see what's going on in the school system, both positives and areas where there is need for improvement," said Carole Inge, an education policy analyst for the Virginia education department.

The report card plan has long been championed by outgoing Republican Gov. George F. Allen as an important element of school reform. Gov.-elect James S. Gilmore III, also a Republican, stressed the importance of the effort during his campaign last year.

True Picture?

While many educators and parents support the state board's decision, some local administrators charge that the annual reports are a way to discredit public schools.

Critics argue that by opening schools to public scrutiny through the report cards, the board is broadening support for school vouchers, which some state board members have supported.

"This is a board who has said openly that there's something wrong with public education, and they are continuing to try to prove how bad it is," said Kim Price-Munoz, a school board member in Loudoun County, Va.

The various report card statistics, delivered without analysis, won't provide a true picture of a school and will instead worry parents, she said.

Other local school leaders have expressed concern about the cost of producing the reports.

But state officials said last week that the state will pay an estimated $1 million to defray mailing and other costs.

State officials also said that schools will not be required to spend any of their own money on the project.

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