Special Report


January 04, 2005 3 min read
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Standards and Accountability: Virginia has clear and specific standards at the elementary, middle, and high school levels for English, mathematics, and social studies/history. Such standards exist for science at the elementary and middle school levels only.

The state is one of 12 that have standards-based tests in all grade spans for every core subject. But the state relies primarily on multiple-choice tests; that approach lowers its grade. The one exception is in English, for which the state also uses extended-response questions to measure student performance.

The state publishes school report cards containing student-achievement data and assigns ratings to schools based, in part, on test scores.

Virginia does not impose sanctions on all consistently low-performing or failing schools, including non-Title I schools, and its failure to do so causes its grade to drop. But it does provide help to Title I and non-Title I schools with such ratings.

The state does not provide cash rewards to high-performing or improving schools.

Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Virginia scores among the top 10 states for its efforts to improve teacher quality. The state requires prospective high school teachers to complete majors and pass subject-matter tests in the areas they plan to teach.

Future middle school teachers must minor in two subjects and pass the corresponding Praxis subject-matter middle school exams. All of the state’s teachers must complete at least 300 clock hours of student teaching.

But the state does not use performance-based assessments, such as classroom observations or portfolios, to evaluate teachers once they are in the classroom. That deficiency reduces its grade.

Beginning teachers receive mentoring for at least one year. Virginia pays for mentoring as well as teacher professional development for all districts.

The state’s school report cards include information on the percent of classes taught by teachers who do not meet the federal definition of “highly qualified,” as well as the percent of teachers with provisional licenses and conditional licenses in special education.

The state identifies low-performing teacher education institutions based on its program-approval process. Virginia’s alternative route into the profession, the Career Switcher Alternative Route to Licensure Program, is aimed at nontraditional teacher-candidates. It requires applicants to complete subject-matter coursework and pass subject-matter tests for entry into the program.

School Climate: Virginia’s limited options for public school choice lower its grade in this category. The state is one of only a handful that do not have open-enrollment policies. Its charter school law is deemed weak by the Center for Education Reform.

According to data from the federal 2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, the average elementary-class size in the state is 19.4 pupils, lower than the national average of 21.2 pupils.

But other federal data reveal that students in Virginia are less likely than those in other states to attend small schools, particularly at the middle and high school levels. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress background survey provide a mixed picture on measures of student engagement, school safety, and parent involvement.

Equity: Virginia receives one of the lowest grades for resource equity of the 50 states. The state falls to the bottom tier for its wealth-neutrality score, ranking second to last. That score indicates very wide disparities in state and local funding linked to the property wealth of local districts.

The state’s coefficient of variation of 12.5 percent indicates moderate disparities in per-pupil spending across districts. Virginia ranks 24th on that indicator. The state does best on the McLoone Index, which compares the total amount spent on students in districts below the median with the amount that would be needed to ensure all districts spent at least at the median. The state ranks 13th on that indicator.

Spending: Virginia dedicates 3.3 percent of its total taxable resources to education, less than 41 other states. The national average is 3.8 percent. Virginia lands in the middle nationally for education spending, at $7,735 per pupil for the 2001-02 school year, just $1 above the national average. About 59 percent of students in the state attend schools in districts whose spending is at or above the national average.

Virginia ranks 21st out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia on the spending index. That index measures the percentage of students in districts spending at least the national average, as well as how far the rest fall below that bar.


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