Putting More School in the Community and More Community in the School
by Sam Jackson and members of the Community Support Sub-Committee edited by Margaret Barkley Byess
Much appreciation is due to the members of the Community Support Sub-committee of the FCCPTA Budget Committee. Lexie Ellis from Langley High School, Janet Gelb from Louise Archer Elementary School, Jack Knowles of the Mount Vernon Association of Citizens’ Associations, and Dolores Bowen, former FCPS Assistant Superintendent for Community Relations were active members who should share in the credit for great work done in preparing this report. And finally, Janet Mendis deserves kudos for contributing her professional editing skills.
This paper is predicated on the assumption that sustaining broad community support for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is critically important for the continued success of our schools. As the demands on our schools and the demographic makeup of our student population change, we must ensure not only the continued provision of high quality education but also that county citizens understand the needs of our schools and continue to support them. For the schools to retain the confidence of the public they must:
This paper addresses these issues from the standpoint of increased community involvement and support. Our recommendations are focused on three different levels: first, at the School Board and the Superintendent's Office; second, within the school system itself and in the Fairfax County Council of PTAs (FCCPTA); and, third, at the local school and PTA level.
Responsiveness and Accountability (pages 3-8).
Each school individually and the school system as a whole must be responsive to their "customers": students, parents, and other interested members of the community. We ask that the School Board take the lead in this effort by adopting as a priority an explicit commitment to improving the participation of all parents and community members. We recommend increasing public input and participation on advisory committees both to the School Board and to local schools, in the county-wide planning process, and during the budget process. We further recommend that the role of community and parent representatives on advisory committees be strengthened by providing training to members of these groups and by encouraging School Board appointees to better communicate with parents and community members in their districts. And, while we applaud the adoption of the new voicepoll technique to solicit input from the community, we also encourage using other electronic resources to obtain public input.
We affirm the importance of establishing a system of accountability that assesses the schools' accomplishments. We recommend that schools demonstrate to parents and the community their continued commitment to educational excellence by 1) exploring innovations that will control future costs, while continuing to pursue the highest standards, and 2) ensuring that individual and system performance is measured, with consequences when standards are met or not met.
County-wide Efforts to Improve Community Support (pages 8 - 14).
There are many broad-based civic, community, and business organizations whose support is invaluable to the public schools. The work of the FCPS Office of Community Relations with these organizations is commendable, and we make several recommendations for further efforts: 1) providing "rapid response" information to citizens; 2) fostering connections with the real estate community; and 3) improving access to school documents at county libraries. With regard to the business community, we recommend 1) recruiting business partners for schools that don’t yet have them; and 2) exploring ways to develop ties to small businesses in the county. Further, we recommend the FCCPTA explore other community-school collaborations (such as community coalitions) that could foster greater understanding of the challenges and accomplishments of our public schools. We recommend that umbrella organizations within the county establish an education committee, such as that of the Mount Vernon Association of Civic Associations.
The Fairfax County Council of PTAs itself works at many levels to sustain public support for education. The FCCPTA commits itself to improving dissemination of information to and among its members, include establishing a an E-mail system which includes all PTAs, expanding the use of its web site, improving communication with its appointees to School Board advisory committees meetings, and repackaging past FCCPTA issue and policy papers. The County Council also commits to continued training of PTA and FCCPTA leaders. These activities, we believe, will strengthen our efforts to engender community support for our county's public schools.
Strengthening Ties with the Community at the School Level (pages 14 - 20).
Most citizens feel their strongest ties to the school in their local community. Here, in particular, we must ensure that schools display their commitment to "customer" orientation, accountability, and genuine exchange of information and ideas with their community. We recommend that schools maintain a "parent-friendly" culture, particularly in the front office of each school, and adopt new methods to communicate with parents (through, for example, e-mail and fax).
We applaud the efforts of local schools to disseminate positive information about the schools to the media. By designating a media representative at each school, local PTAs may assist school personnel in distributing news stories of interest to the local community. The local PTA and school must develop stronger ties with community associations within each school's boundaries. In addition to providing concrete information to these associations, each school should invite community association members to attend school functions and to serve on school-based advisory groups.
Connecting with local community associations is one of many ways in which we can put more school in the community and more community in the schools. We identify opportunities to enhance these ties, ranging from open houses to maintaining contact with parents of school alumni. Of special concern is the need to connect with older citizens in the county, who often hold leadership positions in local and county organizations.
Continuing our Efforts to Maintain Community Support (page 20).
This report is a preliminary effort to identify areas to address in promoting public support for public education. We do not pretend that these are the final word. Indeed, we must continue to identify "best practices" in public engagement initiatives in other communities. We hope this will be part of an ongoing effort to sustain community support for the Fairfax County Public Schools.
Putting More School in the Community and More Community in the School
The Fairfax County Council of PTAs (FCCPTA) has long believed that sustaining broad community support is an essential ingredient in the success of the public schools in Fairfax County. For years, the FCCPTA and local PTAs have worked to help our community appreciate the high quality of our public schools. We must develop strategies to reach beyond those with the closest affinity to the schools. In appealing to those who do not have children in the schools, school supporters have pointed to the relationship between the quality of schools and the resale value of residential real estate.
We must also reaffirm the value of public education in helping our county's children become economically productive adults, informed citizens and responsible parents. The consent of our communities to finance public education is part of what has been termed the "social contract," that is, the acceptance of our responsibilities as individual members of a society to pay for services that are of indirect benefit to us as individuals, but of direct benefit to our society. The maintenance of a community's commitment to the social contract is of paramount importance in the success of that community, and must not be taken for granted. Preserving that commitment depends on citizens being confident in the quality and efficiency of the services being provided, in this case, from our public schools. Thus, as the demands on our schools and the makeup of our student population change over the next decade, we must maintain our focus on both sides of the social contract--providing excellent schools and promoting community support for our schools.
There must be a renewed effort at all levels by both schools and PTAs to reach out to all segments of our community. We are all partners in this contract to ensure continued support for public investment in our schools at a level needed to maintain their high quality. We regard the following ingredients as essential for the schools to retain the confidence and support of the public:
In addition to sustaining adequate funding for public education, a supportive and engaged community can contribute ideas and time to the schools. Thus supported, our school system will maintain its reputation for excellence, attracting residents and businesses to Fairfax County and thereby maintaining its tax base and the quality of life for its residents. A strong public school system is beneficial even for citizens who do not have family members attending public schools. To quote an FCPS publication, "Good Schools are Good for Everyone."
We address these issues now because the recent years of good economic growth and relatively uncontroversial budgets may have left many Fairfax residents complacent about the state of public education in the county. We are concerned that the implementation of the Standards of Accreditation (SOA)--which require the issuance of "School Report Cards" on each school next fall--may undercut public confidence in some schools. Finally, demographic trends suggest that over the next decade an older, established population, unfamiliar with the many changes in educational approach since their days in school and unaware of the greater challenges posed by the increasing diversity of our student body, will be asked to support a more needy school population.
As active PTA members who support public education in general and our Fairfax County schools in particular, we are well aware of the strengths and limitations of our individual schools, and we are well aware of the problems our schools face due to budget limitations. Although we have no "scientific" survey evidence, we believe there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction even among some active, involved parents themselves. The FCCPTA believes that we--both our PTAs and our schools--must not ignore the concerns of dissatisfied parents.
The fact that we choose to address these issues of community support is not an implied criticism of the many excellent, dedicated, and committed teachers and principals in our schools. Nor do we wish to imply in this report that we have found the best and only ways to build and sustain community support. We offer these recommendations as a way of sharing with all the many approaches to building and maintaining public support we have found in use at one school or another, at one level or another, in Fairfax County Public Schools, as well as some initiatives we have found in use in other school systems.
In this report we identify some of the areas that require attention if we are to sustain and enhance community support for public education. Although a high-quality education is necessary for that support, that topic is beyond the scope of this document. The efficiency of the school system has been addressed in many prior Fairfax County Council of PTAs (FCCPTA) documents, as well as last year's Management Review by MGT of America. Our focus here will be on the other ingredients of public support: accountability, customer orientation, and school-community dialogue.
This report is directed at three groups; the analysis and recommendations are organized in a way we hope is helpful for each of those groups. First, we identify the major initiatives that can be undertaken system-wide to enhance community support. These initiatives are directed at the School Board, Dr. Domenech, and his leadership team and focus on the themes of responsiveness and accountability. Second, we identify county-wide settings for school-community interactions and offer a number of suggestions, as well as a number of commitments from the FCCPTA, to improve support for the schools. These recommendations are aimed at the FCCPTA and FCPS central and area office staff. The third set of recommendations is directed to local schools and their PTAs. This final section addresses strategies for cultivating local school-community communication.
Not only must the school community effectively inform the public at large, but we must develop a more collaborative relationship, one that expands the role of the community in the schools and expands the role of the schools in the community. We are aware that our school principals and teachers are already overburdened, particularly now with the challenges presented by the implementation of the Standards of Learning and Standards of Accreditation. We are also aware that Dr. Domenech is proposing a number of significant changes in the organization of our schools that will further challenge our local school staff. Nevertheless, because the successful implementation of change requires a responsive and supportive community, we believe our local schools and PTAs must strive to improve their communication and interaction with all the potential partners in their local areas.
We acknowledge that our ideas may for some be just the beginning of an effort to sustain community support, while for others they may be "old news." We hope that this document will be taken as the first step in a collaborative, open, and frank discussion, occurring at all levels, of the many ways we can work together to support our schools.
II. A Responsive and Accountable School System
Citizens are more likely to support the needs of the Fairfax County Public Schools if they believe that schools are responsive to the needs of the community and are held to account for their performance. Moreover, the community will be more supportive, and understanding of the problems our schools face, if it is actively engaged in decisions about the schools. One commentator has observed:
A well-established phenomenon in contemporary American life is the growing dependence on experts and professionals to solve our social problems. A striking consequence of this development has been the loss of real dialogue among most citizens about issues that are significant to the vitality of the nation. Though leaders and experts spend years and years working through difficult problems, relying on serious dialogue as an approach to crafting solutions, they rarely invite ordinary citizens into their deliberations. Rather once they have arrived at a consensus, they present their list of solutions to citizens and expect the country to "sign on." When they encounter public resistance, they are bewildered and turn belatedly to "public engagement," the activity that appears today on every expert's agenda.
Public engagement, if it is to be successful, must be more than just another public relations strategy. Genuine opportunities for public input and participation in school decision-making are critical to the continuation of community support for the schools. Unfortunately, many citizens, including parents of schoolchildren, have an image of FCPS as a huge bureaucracy that is indifferent and unfriendly to its patrons and concerned only with the preservation of a tenured profession. The national media attention on the poor quality of public education in the United States today--however inapplicable that judgment may be for Fairfax County-- has had its impact on public perceptions. The FCCPTA believes the schools must combat this image from within, first, by assuring that they have developed a customer-friendly orientation, and, second, by developing a system of accountability.
The school system as a whole, from top to bottom, must make "customer orientation" an important priority. This effort must start with the School Board and end with every school employee. From the School Board on down, there are a myriad of advisory and planning groups that involve parents, community and staff. These groups are important links in the community support structure of our schools, and should be nurtured. Where citizens are engaged in the planning and implementation of education, they are more likely to feel a commitment to the success of the public schools. FCPS should identify and explore every opportunity for increased public input, awareness and participation.
Just as the School Board has made a commitment to understanding the diverse learning needs of students and providing programs that meet those needs, so too the School Board should make a commitment to ensuring the participation of community members from all the diverse communities that exist within Fairfax County. FCPS staff leaders should also commit to improving opportunities for input and participation from all our community members as part of a system-wide effort to broaden participation. Diversity is one of the assets of living in Fairfax County.
It is critical that the School Board and FCPS clarify the role of citizens appointed to various advisory committees. School Board appointees sometimes seek input from the community, but sometimes simply speak only for themselves. When appointees simply speak for themselves, they risk undercutting the credibility of the advisory committee and limit the public's access and contribution of ideas to their elected School Board members. We believe that non-staff appointees should be expected to represent the community, in order that a wide variety of views can be considered in the decision-making process.
1. School Board Advisory Committees.
The FCCPTA believes that these groups are not being used as effectively as they could be. The FCCPTA recommends that a parent or community member chair the committee and that each group receive training at the beginning of each new term of office on the role and responsibilities of staff, community and parent representatives on these groups. During a meeting in March with Dr. Domenech he agreed to establish an orientation session for advisory committees, effective in the fall of 1998. We also suggest that School Board members can demonstrate their commitment to more meaningful citizen participation on these committees by regularly communicating with their appointees. Further, we recommend that School Board members encourage their appointees to communicate with PTAs and other interested community organizations in their district's schools, to ensure that these appointees represent the views of their communities—and not just their own personal opinions. To facilitate the process of advisory committee appointees communicating with local schools to solicit input, the School Board and advisory committee chairs should formalize some communication channels (e.g., establish e-mail addresses for each advisory committee that are printed in every issue of Familygram; require advance circulation of advisory committee meeting agendas to local PTAs; distribute annually to every PTA and school office brief descriptions of each advisory committee, including mission/area of purview, names and phone numbers of chair and committee members).
2. County-wide Planning.
FCPS engages in the development of multi-year plans that are tied to School Board priorities and local school plans. The FCCPTA is particularly pleased with Dr. Domenech's "Two Year Division-Level Planning Cycle" process, which describes several critical points where there will be community input and an opportunity to contribute to the development of the plan. The Office of Planning and Evaluation is developing a survey to be done by Voicepoll to collect community input for the plan. The FCCPTA is encouraged by the outlines of this process, and recommends that parent and community groups be active participants in the development of the school-level objectives and accountability measures. As in the case of other advisory groups, the role of parent and community members should be clarified.
3. Increasing the diversity of participants.
The School Board and FCPS have initiated various actions to improve the responsiveness of the school division to the diverse needs of students and parents, such as the Extended Family Solutions Conference and diversity training, but additional efforts are needed. However, a specific commitment from the School Board to improving community participation in general, and the diversity of the community participating in particular, would demonstrate a serious commitment to this effort. The FCCPTA recommends that the School Board establish as a priority for the next two-year planning cycle the improvement of parent and community participation, emphasizing the importance of participation from all parents.
4. Budget Input.
The FCCPTA has previously noted its concern that insufficient time exists between the submission of the Superintendent's Proposed Budget and the School Board public hearings on the budget. The FCCPTA supports Dr. Domenech's plans to open up the budget development process during the fall before submission of the budget to the School Board. The FCCPTA also recommends that FCPS budget office staff seek out opportunities to speak to community groups--particularly those groups identified in this document-- after formal submission of the budget to the School Board.
5. School-Based Advisory Councils.
Individual schools should form councils consisting of local business and community people, who can be informed of the school's activities and discuss school-community issues with school staff. Such councils should include local PTA representation to ensure that all constituents of the school have a voice on the council. The participation of civic and business leaders in the Principal's Advisory Council is a major means of strengthening a school's ties with the community and community support for the schools. The FCCPTA recommends that all schools be encouraged to establish an advisory council, and that principals actively seek broad community participation even though it may be difficult to arrange because of the pressures of time and conflicting schedules.
6. Electronic Communications.
The FCPS home page on the World Wide Web is an excellent public relations tool. The FCCPTA commends FCPS staff for the quality of its web-site and the depth and breadth of information about our schools that is available on-line. Nevertheless, the FCCPTA believes the web-site could be made more interactive through the establishment of an on-line "suggestion box" or question-and-answer forum, where correspondents' suggestions, questions and answers could be posted for all to review. This could be structured similar to a "use-net" site where parents and staff communicate cooperatively to answer each other's questions, rather than the responses being the responsibility of a specific FCPS staff person. The FCCPTA recommends that FCPS explore additional ways our electronic resources can be used to solicit input from parents and community at the broader, county-wide level. Other suggestions on the use of our electronic resources to communicate at the school level appear in Section IV, below.
7. Public Participation in Personnel Selection.
In recent years FCPS has broadened the involvement of parents, teachers, and other community members in the process of selecting upper-level administrators, ranging from the Superintendent to individual school principals, and the FCCPTA applauds these efforts to include stakeholders. However, we are concerned that the role of community panels is unclear, the selection of members is done by a variety of undefined methods, and the impact (or lack thereof) of the panels' recommendations can leave participants feeling frustrated and used, rather than satisfied and valued. Further, applicants need to have a clear understanding of the hiring process before they decide whether to apply. The FCCPTA recommends that the School Board clarify the role of stakeholder participation in administrative personnel selection, and that FCPS staff work with citizen groups like the FCCPTA to develop procedures to implement that role.
For the public to remain committed to and supportive of our schools, the FCPS must demonstrate its effectiveness in educating students and its accountability for their accomplishments and problems. Our schools along with their communities must identify goals for the schools to accomplish and the criteria for gauging those accomplishments. Although test scores may be one component of assessment, the FCCPTA has in the past specifically opposed the use of SAT scores as a measure of school achievement. We have advocated that FCPS provide more comprehensive longitudinal data for test scores (ITBS, TAP, CoGAT) broken down by socioeconomic status, length of time in FCPS, language and ESL status for each school. Some of this information is now available on the FCPS web-site, but not at the detailed analytical level necessary to demonstrate the effectiveness of individual schools in educating specific populations of students, nor is it broken down by the categories listed here.
One measure of accountability inevitably will be the SOA Report Cards. While it is important to compare schools within the county (and state) using a common standard, it is also important to note that some schools have more special needs students than other schools. The special needs school may make more absolute progress in a year than non-special needs schools, but still have an overall poorer showing on a standardized measure. The school plan, which all schools currently prepare and which will become the basis of the new school-based accountability system, should be disseminated to the same group of people who will receive the SOA Report Cards.
The FCCPTA has also advocated the importance of developing a system of accountability that assesses the schools' accomplishments in light of the defined criteria. An effective system of accountability rewards accomplishments and includes measures to improve shortcomings in staff performance. Since compensation constitutes 85% of the school budget, the schools cannot expect to sustain public support when the schools' employees receive automatic step increases, without correlation to the quality of their teaching or efficiency of their work. School system salaries should be competitively structured to attract the very best. In return for paying top drawer salaries, personnel--particularly teachers who are critical to the quality of education--should be held to high performance expectations. Those who meet expectations should be rewarded at one level; those who exceed expectations should be rewarded at a higher level. Those who don't make the grade should not be rewarded. It is thus imperative that the schools develop a system of accountability that reassures the public, while treating school staff fairly.
1. Commitment to Excellence.
Our schools should demonstrate to the community their continued commitment to educational excellence by:
2. Reporting to the Community.
We are aware that the Office of Community Relations and other offices within FCPS are working on this issue, particularly as it pertains to the release of the School Report Cards. The FCCPTA feels strongly that the supplementary information provided with the School Report Cards must be specific to each school, and recommends that the individual school plan form the basis of this response.
III. Leading our Organizations to Improve Community Support
Support for public education in Fairfax County can be generated from a variety of sources in a variety of ways. In this section we examine the endeavors of the central office of FCPS, the FCCPTA itself, and related organizations. The FCCPTA, as an advocate for increased support for our schools, is willing to make a major commitment to this effort over the next two years.
A. Connecting with the Media
A first step in promoting a supportive public is to provide accurate information about both our schools' accomplishments and problems and their efforts to solve these problems. In the national media, frequently there is emphasis on the failures of educational institutions in the metropolitan Washington area; as a result, many people may be left with an unfavorable image of schools which they unthinkingly apply to Fairfax County schools. The FCPS Office of Community Relations (OCR), which handles media relations for our school system, has been quite successful in presenting a more positive impression of education in Fairfax County. Among other things, OCR generates news releases, produces newsletters and publications, manages programming for the school's cable television channel, and maintains its web page. Positive stories about the schools are contributed by school liaisons--school-based employees, trained by OCR, who provide information about their schools. The MGT management review of the FCPS commended the OCR for its "nationally acclaimed public information program."
OCR's efforts to keep the public informed have been--and must continue to be--supplemented by a network of school supporters, beginning with the FCCPTA and its members. In addition, OCR is cultivating a network of 200 to 400 key people who can be easily reached to help FCPS convey important school developments to the media and the community at large. Ideally, these communicators can assist the schools by providing support and accurate information pertaining to controversies about the schools.
One of OCR's major "consumers" of information has been the real estate profession. When looking for a house in Fairfax County, prospective purchasers are typically very interested in the schools serving that neighborhood. Realtors, however, are limited by federal, state and local fair housing laws as to what they can say about the reputation of particular schools. These laws are designed to prevent realtors from improper "steering" of buyers on the basis of, among other things, race or national origin. It is the policy of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors to recommend to its members that, when a prospective buyer inquires about the schools where property is located, the realtor should refer the buyer to the schools in question and offer to take the buyer to those schools. In responding to inquiries about the schools, realtors are advised to discuss only "facts" as opposed to their opinions about the schools. The realtor may also inform the buyer about sources of information that are available on the Internet. OCR has provided school profiles, at nominal cost, to realtors.
1. Providing "Rapid Response" Information for Citizens.
When a controversial issue emerges in the media (either by media-generated story or letter to the editor), OCR must be prepared to disseminate useful and accurate information to concerned citizens who wish to correct any false or inaccurate information that has appeared. For example, OCR should have "vital fact" documents available and accessible via fax, web page, e-mail, or hard copy so that the communicator will have facts to back up his/her conclusions. In addition, throughout the year, OCR must continue to work to inform the public that there is a web page and other media for securing information about the schools.
2. Fostering Connections with the Real Estate Community.
We are pleased that the director of OCR is meeting with real estate professionals to discuss ways to assist them in providing accurate information about the schools. FCPS, and any school that has a home page on the Internet, should give special attention to putting carefully selected factual information on the Internet that would be of major interest to realtors and prospective purchasers of real estate. FCPS should also consider placing such information on the Metropolitan Regional Information System (MRIS), which is only available to realtors and which has a new program on schools. The FCCPTA suggests that FCPS continue to consult with the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors concerning the type of information that would be of interest to the real estate community.
3. Improving access to school documents at libraries.
While county libraries have computers that can access the FCPS web site, FCCPTA is concerned that many libraries do not have hard copies of current school publications that are easily accessible for interested citizens. We recommend that OCR continue their work with county libraries to ensure that current publications of FCPS are readily available to the public at all county libraries.
B. Fostering Relations with the Business Community
FCPS has developed numerous ties with the county's business community. There is a Business/Industry Advisory Council, composed of 40 representatives from the business community who meet regularly with the Superintendent to advise him of that community's needs and to provide input into FCPS operations, budget and curriculum. In addition, the Education Foundation and the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce's Education Committee provide connections between business and public education. The Superintendent and other school representatives are frequent speakers at business organization events. Finally, the many advisory councils, committees and groups often have business members.
FCPS has also developed a community outreach program with the business community called the Partners in Education Program. The Office of Business/Industry Relations (OBIR) in Fairfax County Public Schools coordinates this program. As of November 1997, OBIR lists 152 partnerships, which include 124 local businesses; federal, state or local government agencies; or civic clubs; in partnership with 115 schools and centers, with a few schools having multiple partners. Business partners and their activities are selected to participate based on the school's plan. OBIR provides assistance in locating partners and provides evaluation services.
In addition to the educational benefit, the Partners in Education Program provides an important opportunity for the schools to connect to the broader community. A significant number of schools, however, do not have partners. In part this may be due to the location of the school; when a school is located too far away from larger businesses (who in the past have been most likely to be partners), those businesses may be reluctant to establish partnerships. We also sense that there has been less active recruitment of businesses, due to limited resources at OBIR. The recent MGT Management Review recommended that a more equitable system of applying the resources of business to the schools be developed.
1. Recruiting New Businesses for the Partners in Education.
The FCCPTA believes there should be more recruitment of businesses for business partnerships, especially at special needs schools. We recommend that it be determined whether additional resources should be given to OBIR so that it can enhance its recruitment efforts or whether its responsibilities should be refocused so that recruitment becomes its primary mission.
2. Outreach to Small Business.
An identification of contact points and forums for reaching various small business associations in the county would be a worthwhile endeavor for the FCCPTA. We believe that the local schools and/or PTAs should ascertain the level of contact between schools and business within their boundaries and then convey this information to the county council or central office of the schools. Furthermore, we should identify possible connections with "regional" business groups (such as the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce) to determine whether they might initiate their own Education Committees.
C. School-Community Interactions
There are many advisory groups--at the central office, as well as at the area and school level--that invite parents, staff and members of the public to contribute their ideas and reactions to the schools. In particular, we note the Principal Advisory Councils in Area I, where the principal selects members of the non-school public to share information with the school. As management of the school system becomes (we hope) increasingly decentralized, these local advisory groups should prove to be particularly valuable in engaging citizens in public education.
We also note that there are opportunities for school-community interaction that can foster greater understanding of the challenges and accomplishments of our public schools. For example, in Fairfax County, there are 22 community coalitions--organizations (funded by federal grants) that promote substance abuse prevention and a violence-free community for our youth. These programs are tailored to address potential or existing problems within a school pyramid. Each coalition draws its membership from students, parents, the local police, civic, business, faith and ethnically-diverse communities. Coalitions offer an ongoing community-wide awareness and involvement campaign that can increase appreciation and support for our schools.
There may be many other opportunities for school-community interaction as well. Several county-wide organizations (including the League of Women Voters and the Federation of Citizens Associations) and several organizations in magisterial districts (in Mount Vernon and McLean) have education committees that provide critical support for the schools in their communities. We need to ascertain whether other umbrella civic associations could be encouraged to establish education committees that would connect with the community's schools. There are specific task forces to revitalize parts of the county (e.g., Route 1 corridor) that should include school-based representatives who can provide ideas and share mutual concerns. Similarly, on a smaller scale, schools and community groups can help students who are required to engage in community service to identify and work on local needs.
1. The FCCPTA supports the work of the community coalitions.
It believes that we should continue to study this area to determine if other mutually beneficial community-school collaborations can be replicated from the coalition model.
2. The FCCPTA encourages other umbrella organizations of civic and homeowner associations within the county to form education committees.
D. The FCCPTA: Connecting with our Membership
The PTA’s mission includes the following objectives: 1) "To bring into closer relation the home and the school, that parents and teachers may cooperate intelligently in the education of children and youth;" and 2) "to develop between educators and the general public such united efforts as will secure for all children and youth the highest advantages in physical, mental, social, and spiritual education." To accomplish these objectives the FCCPTA works at many levels: with the School Board, with school staff, both in administrative offices and in schools, with our constituent PTA boards, and with other community organizations.
We believe that the FCCPTA could also benefit from a rededication to the goal of improving community support for our schools, and address in this section the ways we can best go about this. We focus on what we can do to better support and represent our member PTA boards. We also identify how we can better communicate our views and positions to those outside the FCCPTA, including the School Board and community and civic organizations.
The FCCPTA is composed of the PTA boards from almost all Fairfax County Public Schools. Many on the FCCPTA Executive Board are also PTA presidents or delegates to the FCCPTA from their local PTAs. Even with this overlapping membership between the county-wide level and the local level, the FCCPTA has found it difficult to keep its members involved in the issues before the School Board, the Board of Supervisors, and the State legislature, and in turn to remain fully informed about the concerns of our members. Part of this is inherent in the size of our school district: with 207 schools, centers, and alternative schools there are just a lot of people with whom to communicate. In the past, the FCCPTA has relied primarily on its monthly newsletter to disseminate information, but during critical times of the year, such as the budget season or when the Virginia legislature is in session, this method alone is ineffective. We have also used a FAX system to communicate, but this has proven to have limitations as well.
This year the FCCPTA has experimented with three new methods of communication: a hotline for communicating short meeting and issue advisories, an e-mail communication system with local PTA boards, and a web-site. The first of these saves many "house-keeping" type phone calls, and the latter two offer excellent and immediate two-way communication systems. Parents who are active in the FCCPTA and our local PTAs have a great depth and breadth of knowledge about school, education, and family issues at many levels. We need to find a better way to tap that knowledge and share it with each other.
As a volunteer organization we must be cautious not to place too heavy a load on any one volunteer and to use the volunteers we have wisely. One of our biggest challenges is maintaining regular communications with our local PTAs; there are just too many of them for one person to handle. In recognition of this, the pyramid coordinator position was established. This position needs to become a key link in the structure of the FCCPTA, and not just a link in the telephone chain.
Another group of volunteers the FCCPTA could use more effectively are our liaisons to School Board Committees and Curriculum Advisory Committees. These people also often serve in more than one capacity with the FCCPTA, and because of meeting schedules it is difficult to attend all the FCCPTA Executive Board meetings to report on the activities of the School Board Committees.
1. A County-wide E-mail System.
The FCCPTA will expand its e-mail system and solicit e-mail addresses from at least one PTA board member at each school. The FCCPTA will determine in advance how to safeguard these addresses from unauthorized use.
2. Expanded Use of the World Wide Web.
The FCCPTA web site has just been posted and is still under development. All information about the officers, structure, and functioning of the County Council, along with e-mail addresses for officers, will be included on the web site. In addition, the many position papers, newsletters, speeches made before the School Board, Board of Supervisors, and testimony at the state level will be posted on the web site for reference by our members. We also will consider the establishment of a bulletin board or use-net type site to be used to solicit input on particular issues under consideration by the FCCPTA.
3. Repackage our Issues and Policy Papers.
The FCCPTA has produced many research and analytical documents over the past five years. Some have been buried in files; others are still floating around. All are too long for our membership to use effectively. The major focus for the FCCPTA in the upcoming year will be to abstract the most important information and positions from these documents and produce a short series of position papers. We expect that these will be posted on the web and distributed to all PTA members.
4. The Pyramid Coordinator.
We will employ the pyramid coordinator more effectively as a resource person for the entire pyramid.
5. Reporting on School Board Advisory Committee Meetings.
The FCCPTA appointees to School Board advisory committees will submit brief reports on the issues before their advisory committees. These reports will then be posted on the FCCPTA web site.
6. Leadership Training for the FCCPTA.
The FCCPTA is committed to providing quality training opportunities to all PTA members by providing leadership training and continued support to local units. Local PTAs should take advantage of this training and encourage members of their PTA, especially the Board, to attend these training sessions.
7. Media Training for new PTA Representatives.
Each spring as the FCCPTA and local PTAs establish their boards for the coming year, the FCCPTA vice-president responsible for media relations should contact the PTA boards to remind them of the need for a media or community relations representative.
IV. Strengthening Ties with the Community at the School Level
In our efforts to secure the support of our school "community," we recognize that there are many diverse and overlapping communities in Fairfax County. Obviously, there are various geographic communities throughout our large school district (currently ranked the 12th largest in the nation). There are also racial, ethnic, and language communities which cross-cut the geographic and residential communities. While residents may feel a sense of community with their local school and pyramid, they may feel less connection to the county system as a whole. Given Fairfax County's physical size and location within the metropolitan Washington area, some local schools may not have much to connect with if they are located in one area while people's jobs, associations, and social lives lie in other communities.
Within any given location, there are many different communities of people with connected interests: parents, homeowners, community, civic, fellowship and religious groups, business and professional entities, athletic and youth organizations, ethnic groups, and retired people. Some of these "communities" have forged strong relationships with the school system. FCCPTA believes that we must identify opportunities to build and strengthen the ties between our schools and the various communities in the county. This endeavor should be part of a long-term plan to engender community support.
Surveys indicate that most people who don't have children in school receive almost as much information about the schools from their adult friends and neighbors as from local newspapers. Our strategies for sustaining community support must include both media and person-to-person approaches. As will be discussed below, there are many ways to reach members of the community and to increase their commitment to the public schools.
Admittedly, many members of the public are limited in the amount of time and attention they can devote to the public schools. While there are undoubtedly a number of citizens who could contribute more of their time as volunteers or attendees at "Town Meeting" presentations about the public schools, most county residents find themselves very busy, with limited time even to receive information about public education. In suggesting strategies to increase support for the public schools we must accommodate these realities. In the following sections, we address a number of issues and make recommendations that are critical to maintaining public support for Fairfax County Public Schools.
A. Improving Connections with Parents
There are as many different school environments in Fairfax County as there are schools. The ever increasing diversity of students and their families in FCPS should be perceived as a positive component to our communities which enhances the education of our children in an era of globalization. Our understanding of diversity should include race, ethnicity, religion and gender. In many cultures the role of the parent as an agent in the child’s education is not viewed in the same activist light that we in the United States, with our history of local school boards and parent involvement, construe it. Our view of the parent as a partner in the child’s education is a peculiarly American conception of the relationship between school and home. Both school staff and PTA must be open to different conceptions of the home-school relationship as they embark on their efforts to improving connections with all the parents in our Fairfax communities.
A common thread that should exist in each Fairfax County school is a commitment to make "customer orientation" an important priority. Schools must be responsive to the parents' concerns. Responsiveness requires that schools and parents be able to communicate effectively; that school staffs display courtesy and respect toward parents; and that school personnel maintain an attitude of collaboration with parents as they work to resolve parental concerns. School staff must be committed to fostering communication with all parents, and not be content to communicate well only with those with whom it is easiest to communicate.
Our PTAs also have an important role to play in fostering communication between parents, school, and PTA. PTA boards set the tone for interaction between parents and school by conducting all business in an open, professional fashion that demonstrates their commitment to children's needs first. Our PTAs should be committed to the involvement of all parents in all PTA activities. The recommendations that follow address ways that both school staff and PTAs, working individually and in concert, can improve relationships with parents.
1. Foster a Parent-Friendly Culture.
At a minimum, school administrators, particularly principals, should require a parent-friendly culture, particularly in the front office of each school. The school plan should define the specific measures each school will take to ensure that parents from all the diverse communities in Fairfax County are welcomed in the classroom and in the school building. Local school-level follow-up from the School Board initiated diversity training workshops should be undertaken as part of this process.
2. Make our Local PTAs more Reflective of our Communities.
Just as our schools must welcome participation from all parents, so must our PTAs. Our PTAs can demonstrate their commitment to broad participation by translating PTA newsletters into the most common languages spoken by the school population and making interpreters available for PTA Board and general membership meetings. Our local PTAs should be encouraged to participate in school-based activities that are part of the follow-up on the diversity training.
3. Promote Membership in the PTA.
People join organizations and increase their volunteer efforts when they see a benefit from doing so. Our local PTAs should design activities that will benefit all groups of parents. PTAs can "market" their activities to encourage greater participation by defining the benefits to school and home from participation. School-home dialogue should be promoted as a mechanism for empowering parents in their children’s education.
4. Use E-mail and FAX to Communicate.
Many families now have e-mail addresses and/or dedicated home FAX lines. Schools and PTAs should collect e-mail addresses and FAX numbers, as they now collect telephone and cell phone numbers. Both the PTAs and the schools should consider using e-mail as a regular communication method with parents. Some schools may be able to use e-mail and FAXes in lieu of mailings for many parents, which would save both money and time. In turn, the schools should distribute their e-mail addresses to parents.
5. Investigate the School-Parent Contract.
The school system in conjunction with parents should investigate establishing a school-parent contract to be signed jointly by the school and parents that delineates the roles and responsibilities of each for the success of their children.
B. Connecting with the Media.
The Office of Community Relations (OCR) has developed a network of news liaisons at each school to provide positive stories about that school. The principal of each school designates a school employee as news liaison; at the beginning of the school year, OCR trains them to collect information of interest to the media. During the school year, each school's liaison conveys positive newsworthy information either directly to local media or to OCR, which itself disseminates the stories to the media.
The employees who serve as liaisons are, in general, doing a fine job, although they of course have other school responsibilities. Some live outside the school's boundaries and may not be intimately familiar with the concerns of non-parents who live in the area served by the school. They may also be unaware of the other members of the community who are willing to publicly support the schools, through, for example, letters to the editor and to local representatives. Although local PTA members are the logical base of this support, many may feel they lack sufficient information to present and support their positions to the media.
1. News liaison/PTA Collaboration.
OCR should work with local schools to encourage the school-based news liaison to collaborate with the PTA. The FCCPTA should also encourage PTAs to designate one member as media or community relations representative. This PTA member could work with the school liaison to identify relevant news, particularly news that would be of interest to the people in the immediate vicinity of the school.
2. Encouraging Local Voices.
Local PTAs should encourage their members to voice support for the schools to the media. Local community representatives and news liaisons can assist PTA members in voicing their concerns to the media. The local PTA president receives many resources from the FCCPTA Executive Board that can help PTA members prepare letters to the editor and news articles. PTA presidents should make sure that each PTA member knows i) their FCCPTA pyramid coordinator (who can serve as a pyramid resource) and ii) how to contact the various resource people within the FCCPTA.
C. Connecting with Community Associations
In Fairfax County there are several thousand homeowner, condominium, and cooperative associations, which are mandatory membership organizations, and civic associations, which are voluntary organizations. They range from stable, well-financed, and well-organized organizations to associations in name only, some of which only come back to life when a neighborhood issue arises. Some of the smaller groups have only a few active members who struggle to keep the association alive.
What is needed is a point of contact between each school and the community associations located within the school's area. Given the number and variety of associations, identifying associations and their leaders may be a daunting task. Nonetheless, developing a network between the PTA and community associations should prove to be a very effective way of reaching key leaders in the community.
1. Identify Contacts.
The elementary school PTAs should identify the civic and homeowners associations for their boundary area and a contact person for each association. They should share this information with the PTAs at the middle and high schools in their pyramid, thereby reducing duplication. The school principal, at least at the elementary school level, should know which associations are in the school's attendance area and the names of the current presidents.
2. Encourage Interaction.
The principal should invite the local association presidents or their representatives to attend school functions and to serve on the school-based advisory group. The PTA president should encourage the association president (or a designee) to join the PTA. In turn, the local PTA should ask each community association to allow a PTA board member to attend the meetings of the board of directors of the community association. Community associations should be on the PTA newsletter mailing list. The PTA president may also offer to attend an association's general membership meeting. PTA newsletters may include mention of community association activities such as meetings and fund-raisers.
3. Provide Concrete Information.
The beginning-of-the-year information packages mailed to each student's family should also be sent to the community and homeowners’ associations, along with current basic information about the school such as the annual School Profile. In addition, either the school's news liaison or the PTA's community relations representative could arrange to have basic information and news about the school appear in association newsletters. If the public is invited to a school event, the invitation should be publicized in association newsletters.
D. Reaching Out to the Local Community.
Schools need to reach out to the local community to inform it of the school's accomplishments and needs and to secure the ideas and contributions of the public.
1. Open House.
Each school should sponsor open houses in which members of the community are invited to tours and presentations at the school. Open houses for the community might coincide with a federal holiday, such as Veterans Day, to maximize the opportunity for community participation. Target groups can be invited to come to school, take a tour and then meet with teachers, students and PTA representatives for dialogue.
2. Community "Centers."
Neighborhood use of school facilities for athletic, cultural, and community association events fosters a sense of affinity with and ownership of the school and should be encouraged even more than at present.
3. Maximizing Use of School Signs.
Every school should have a marquee sign that enables it to inform the community in a brief blurb about activities at and accomplishments of the school. Principals and PTAs should make every effort to assure that the messages on the signs are kept current. PTAs have contributed significantly to this effort, as most school signs have been purchased by PTAs.
4. Community Partnerships and Volunteers.
Mount Vernon High School and its PTA have developed "Community Resource Committees," which pair non-school persons with expertise in specific areas, such as technology or history, with teachers within the school. This network familiarizes members of the community with the school and helps support school staff in their work while improving their contact with members of the community.
5. Local Business Survey.
FCCPTA believes that the schools need to reach out to the small business communities in Fairfax County. It might be useful for the principal of each school (or his/her designee) and/or local PTAs to canvass businesses within its school's boundaries and to develop an approach for communicating with local business. While local PTAs often do approach local business when fundraising, it is equally important for schools to invite local businesspeople to contribute their ideas and concerns, as well as their dollars.
6. Maintaining Contact with Alumni and their Parents.
As the number of parents of school-aged children declines and the number of empty-nesters grows, public education must increasingly rely on the parents of alumni for support. It, therefore, may be useful for schools to maintain contact with alumni and their parents, as way of keeping them appraised of the innovations and developments at their former schools.
E. Connecting with Older Citizens
Older and retired persons hold a significant number of leadership positions in homeowners' and civic associations and perhaps in other organizations as well. They are apt to think of schools and public education in terms of the schools that they attended and the education that they received years ago. They may need more information about the importance of programs that did not exist when they were in school.
1. Open School Doors.
Principals and PTAs should make special efforts to invite older members of the community to open houses, special school functions, advisory councils and other activities so that these citizens can best appreciate, first hand, the schools that they are being asked to support.
2. Grandparents Day.
Many schools have a grandparents day when children are encouraged to invite their grandparents to visit school. Those children whose grandparents are deceased or who live too far away to attend could invite a local senior citizen to stand in as their "grandparent for the day."
V. Continuing our Efforts to Maintain Community Support.
In recent years public engagement and community support have been major themes in education. Many articles have been written on the subject. The Kettering Foundation has devoted much effort to studying community-building and public support for the schools.
The Annenberg Institute is in the midst of an extended "mapping" project, designed to identify "best practices" of various engagement initiatives. It is a tribute to FCPS that representatives at several other Virginia school districts, when asked what innovations in public engagement they had undertaken, responded that they usually looked to Fairfax County for ideas.
As part of an ongoing effort, the Budget Committee's task force on community support will continue to study ways to increase civic commitment to the schools. A document briefly describing outreach efforts in other school districts would be useful both to OCR and to the FCCPTA's efforts. Furthermore, the continuation of our efforts to understand how to engender community support is itself a key element in sustaining that support for the public schools of Fairfax County.
If the School Board, FCPS, the FCCPTA, and our local PTAs truly make a commitment to involving a wide spectrum of community members and parents by following through on the recommendations contained in this report, we believe our schools and children would greatly benefit. Improved involvement in our schools would demonstrate to our teachers and staff that our community does value their work. It would demonstrate to our communities that our schools are doing an excellent job of educating our children, and that continued excellence is crucial to the well-being of both our children and our community. Finally, a re-invigorated partnership between school and community would help vouchsafe a bright future for Fairfax County.
1. Carroll, Susan Rovezzi and Carroll, David, How Smart Schools Get and Keep Community Support, Bloomington, National Educational Service, 1994.
2. Kindred, Leslie W., et al., eds, The School and Community Relations (3d edition), Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1984.
3. Lober, Irene, Promoting Your School, Lancaster, PA, Technomic Publishing, 1993.
4. Mathews, David, Is There a Public for Public Schools? Dayton, Kettering Foundation, 1996.
5. MGT of America, Inc., A Management Review of Fairfax County Public Schools 1997.
6. Various articles, Phi Beta Kappan, June 1997.
7. Wadsworth, Deborah, "Building a Strategy for Successful Public Engagement," Phi Beta Kappan, June 1997, p. 749-52.
8. Warner, Carolyn, Promoting Your School: Going Beyond PR.
Fairfax County Council Of PTA’s Position:
Residential development plans should contain an Education Impact Statement.
State law should be amended to permit localities to require inclusion of the adequacy of existing public facilities in development applications. Specifically, the Virginia Code on Land Use Petitions needs to be modified to include an "Education Impact Statement" in all Fairfax County residential development plans. Education Impact Statements would establish very clear linkages between new school construction and residential construction and redevelopment and thus would facilitate construction of new schools in phase with developing needs. Similarly, zoning applications should also carry Education Impact Statements.
State law should be amended to permit localities to require inclusion of the adequacy of existing public facilities, particular public schools, in zoning and development applications.
Fairfax County Council Of PTA’s Position:
We support (1) distributing state aid to education on a per pupil basis, (2) additional state school construction financing, and (3) passing enabling legislation to permit additional local options for local funding of school construction.
In the last decade Fairfax county voters approved five bond referenda assuming almost $1 billion in school construction debt. Bond referenda held in 1993, 1995 and 1997 had increasing size and support. 1993: $200,000 with 60 percent support. 1995: $217 million with 70% support. 1997:$235 million with 73% support.
Current annual Fairfax County allocation to FCPS facilities is $100 million, up from $75 and $80 million earlier in the decade (94 through 97). However, FCPS facilities needs are $110 million per year, based on approved referenda. Projected facilities funds shortfall for the next ten years is approximately $300 to 400 million, based on a 35-year renewal cycle.
When Virginia funded several billion dollars to fund new prisons, the FCCPTA protested that some of this money should be invested in public schools as prevention rather than expansion of the prison end of the spectrum. The 2-year authorized State funding for school construction is only $110 million per year for the entire state, equivalent to the money FCPS needs for construction and renovation for one year. With 14 percent of State public school enrollment, FCPS is allocated only 4 percent of the total state construction funding. (Fairfax County is applying this money to the interest on its school debts.)
Diversification of taxes away from real estate values is essential. County revenues are relatively stagnant due to lower than expected increases in the value of real estate in Fairfax County. The Real Estate tax rate was last adjusted in 1996 and no adjustment in the rate is expected until 2000.
1. Reconfigure the state funding formula to grant construction money based on total student enrollment.
2. Increase funding to the overall state construction package.
3. Permit Fairfax County to increase sales taxes up to .5% (1/2 of 1%) to be dedicated solely to school construction purposes.
Fairfax County Council Of PTA’s Position:
The number one Fairfax County school problem is the significant and demonstrable need for both new school construction and older school renovations.
According to a recent press report (Larry O'Dell, "Members of the panel say they're unsure schools need more state aid" Fairfax Journal, A3, October 15, 1998), "Several members of Gov. Jim Gilmore's school construction commission...are not yet convinced that Virginia schools need significantly more state aid to build more classrooms. At its first meeting, the commission agreed it needs updated, reliable information about school construction needs before making recommendations to Gilmore and the General Assembly. ...Commission members said they needed assurance that any updated figures reflect only the school's actual needs. ...Gilmore...approved $110 million in school-building grants in the next two-year budget. ...The legislature's commission...is resurveying school districts on their building needs. ...Members also suggested school consolidation may be a way to alleviate some construction needs..."
Fairfax has the most severe school construction needs in VA:
Educational improvements have additional facilities implications:
The entire enrollment of any of the 46 smallest Virginia school divisions could fit into the largest Fairfax high school. Further school consolidations will not alleviate school construction needs in Fairfax County.
Because three-quarters of our existing schools are more than thirty years old, and because some schools are not scheduled for renewal until they near the half century mark, we, the FCCPTA, support simultaneous new construction, renovations, and renewals. These renovations are necessary not only to protect the taxpayers’ existing facilities investment, but also to provide equitable educational facilities across the county into the 21st century; for example, to facilitate Internet access.
The crisis is growing. FCPS school construction has not kept pace with population growth in the southern and western parts of the County, nor with the increasing population in the older eastern portions of the county. Even more alarming, projected renovation costs are four times the anticipated new construction costs. In response to the newspaper article quoted above, these are updated, reliable data of our actual needs.
State aid for the school construction should be allocated based on a per pupil enrollment basis.
Fairfax County Council Of PTA’s Position:
We support state mandated Family Life Education (FLE) as an "OPT-OUT" program.
A typical teen today must be prepared to make responsible decisions about such issues as drug and alcohol use, sexual activity, and the diseases that can result from irresponsible behavior. Since the Family Life Education program was introduced in Virginia in 1988, the state has experienced a steady decline in teen pregnancies. Teen pregnancies in Northern Virginia dropped 11% between 1990-1995; in Fairfax County, the decrease was 24% for the same period. (Source: Center of Health Statistics in Richmond)
We respect the parents’ decision to exclude their child from the Family Life Curriculum and agree that the first teacher is the child's parent. However, not all parents are willing or able to teach their children the knowledge they need to make responsible choices. In Fairfax County, only about 2% of the student population was opted out of FLE. This education is especially critical for the at-risk student population who may not have sufficient parental support and guidance.
The General Assembly should continue to support a mandated Family Life Education curriculum as an "OPT-OUT" program.
Fairfax County Council Of PTA’s Position:
Virginia should proceed promptly to enable all Virginia school districts to participate in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey published by the Centers for Disease Control.
The survey asks questions of middle and high school students on 38 risk behaviors. The survey determines at what age risk behaviors are begun and the prevalence of these behaviors over six teenage years. The survey is optional for each school district; parental approval is required for each child.
While most states use the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey, Virginia does not. This decision was made at the beginning of the Allen Administration. Once Virginia declined to cooperate with the CDC, Federal survey funding for local school districts was cut off. In the midst of early 90's budget cuts, once Fairfax was informed it would have to pay for the survey itself, Fairfax withdrew. Meanwhile Loudoun County, Waynesboro, and other Virginia communities regularly use the CDC survey with no help from Virginia.
The Fairfax County Council of PTA's, the Fairfax Partnership for Youth and the community coalitions seek the data to help us (1) develop prevention programs (2) monitor the effectiveness of prevention programs and (3) apply for grants to fund prevention programs. We have limited funds and urgently need to (1) focus our investment where it will do the most good and (2) have data to measure our successes and failures. The taxpayers should know what youth in our county are doing. Currently, the only way to know is to study the arrest, conviction, suspension and expulsion figures from the schools, police and courts -- data which focuses on the wrong end of the spectrum. Virginia should use the CDC survey because it is (1) written and ready to use (2) offers extensive data on previous results (3) a way for Fairfax County to compare itself to other suburbs. Virginia should not write its own survey because such an effort would be (1) unnecessary duplication of surveys already written (2) expensive, perhaps $450,000 of un-appropriated money (3) a delay until such a Virginia-only survey is thoroughly tested and approved.
The 1998 General Assembly directed the State to proceed with a survey. But the State Board has postponed any decision until next year. The delay is frustrating; worse, it undermines the intent and direction of the General Assembly.
The General Assembly should (1) ask the State Board to proceed with a survey immediately, using a published survey most likely to give us prompt comparative information and (2) fund any necessary survey expenses.
Fairfax County Council Of PTA’s Position:
The State Literary Fund should (1) be restored to its historic role of supporting local school construction, and (2) be distributed on a per pupil basis.
The Virginia State Literary Fund was enacted in 1810 to provide funding for schools. Funding came from all fines and forfeitures paid to the state, from repaid loans to the federal government, and later from the Capitation Tax. In 1829, when the Literary Fund Report showed 26 schools of all types in Fairfax County, the General Assembly provided for the funding of schoolhouse construction. (Cornelius J. Heatwole, A History of Education in Virginia, 1916, pp. 108-109) In 1906, the Williams Building Act permitted districts to borrow money from the Literary Fund to build schools. (J. L. Blair Buck, The Development of Public Schools in Virginia, July, 1952, p. 144)
In recent years, this historic function has been diluted as some funds have been diverted. According to Larry O'Dell ("Members of the panel say they're unsure schools need more state aid" Fairfax Journal, A3, October 15, 1998), "The state's biggest role has been making low-interest loans through the Literary Fund, which consists largely of various fines and unclaimed lottery prizes. Since the 1982-83, the state has made $554.3 million in loans from the Literary Fund. The state loaned a record $78.2 million to schools last year. However, the state has also raided the Literary Fund in the past to help pay teacher pensions. For three years earlier this decade the state used so much of the fund for pensions that no money was available for construction loans.... Del J. Paul Councill ... has proposed a constitutional amendment that would restrict use of the fund to school construction."
Projected Fairfax facilities spending shortfall for the next ten years is approximately $300 to 400 million.
The projected shortfall between current County contributions and FCPS facilities needs that have approved bond packages could be alleviated through proper use of the Literary Fund.
Diversification of taxes away from real estate values is essential.
1.Restore the Literary Fund to its historic role of providing a state lending source for below market funding for school construction.
2. Seek significant funds from the entertainment, tourist, and other Virginia industries to contribute to the Literary Fund.
3. Distribute Literary Fund loans on a per pupil basis.
Fairfax County Council of PTA’s Position:
The Virginia State Tax Code should be restructured by the General Assembly to provide local communities' with the ability to reduce their over-dependence on real and personal property tax and BPOL for operating their public schools, providing local services, and sustaining a quality of life of their choosing.
Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) system receives nearly 74% of its operating revenue from Fairfax County. The State of Virginia provides approx-imately 22%. The Federal government contributes a little over 1%. The remainder of the funds is generated from a variety of sources including grants and user fees.
Fairfax County generates its revenues primarily from four sources -- real estate tax, personal property tax, sales tax, and BPOL tax. Real estate tax revenue (at approximately 65%) and personal property tax (at approximately 21%) provide the bulk of County revenue. County annual revenue growth has been forecast to stay relatively flat and not to exceed 4-5% within the foreseeable future. This forecast was made prior to the planned elimination of the personal property tax.
FCPS has experienced significant student growth in absolute numbers (approximately 4,000 students in FY99 alone) and in terms of students with special needs [e.g., ESL and special ed]. FCCPTA's analysis has demonstrated that since the recession years earlier this decade, inflation-adjusted revenue growth, combined with student population growth and diversity, has resulted in about an 18% drop in per pupil spending, despite a $.06 increase in the real property tax that was imposed in FY97. Despite FCPS' many efficiency gains since 1991, the fact that property tax has not grown commensurate with the local economy has meant that FCPS remains burdened with larger class sizes and "temporary" classrooms, while serving an ever growing and more diverse population.
A tax on real property has proven to be vulnerable to recessionary pressures, are overly regressive, and bear little resemblance to disposable income. The personal property tax, which has many of the same characteristics, is being phased out, but without a reliable revenue replacement that is under local control. A Task Force empanelled by Fairfax County School Board has noted that County revenue "fluctuates with the value of fixed assets and, with the exception of sales tax, is at best only indirectly linked to the income of its taxpayers." We concur in this tax restructuring position with the recommendations made by both the Fairfax Board of Supervisors and the Chamber of Commerce.
The General Assembly should revamp the State Tax Code revamped to permit a more diversified local tax base.
Fairfax County Council of PTAs Position:
Virginia should prohibit anyone who enters a youth recreation, cultural, or sports center from carrying a firearm (law enforcement personnel excepted).
State law establishes the right of certain citizens to carry concealed weapons. Under this law, a permit holder may carry a concealed weapon into a site filled with young people.
In youth meeting sites in Fairfax County, we have zero tolerance for weapons. Meeting site managers may authorize law enforcement officers to provide such security as needed. These managers seek the right to prohibit the carrying of arms by anyone else. Managers are deeply concerned that, because of current Virginia law, young-looking permit holders have entered recreation centers with their concealed weapons.
The Fairfax Partnership for Youth and county recreation leaders have sought legislation to keep teen centers gun free
Permit holders argue that their carrying a weapon into a youth meeting site might help save a life or deter an altercation. Officials managing these sites warn that introducing a concealed weapon into a volatile situation, no matter what the motivation of the permit holder, escalates the nature and degree of any violence that might erupt. Knowing that someone else may be carrying a weapon is a reason why youth bring their own weapons -- to be in a position to fire first.
Virginia should allow each county and municipal government to establish its own rules on the carrying of concealed weapons into youth meeting sites. Fairfax County should be allowed to enforce its own rules to protect its children. Parents who permit their children to go to recreation centers should have the same "Gun Free" assurance they feel they have in public schools. Few parents know that Virginia allows concealed guns in recreation centers, but those who find out are repulsed at the concept and frustrated that the General Assembly has debated yet not resolved this issue.
The General Assembly should:
1. Permit local jurisdictions to establish their own rules with respect to teen meeting sites, including the regulation of concealed weapons.
2. Prohibit concealed gun permit holders from carrying weapons into teen recreation centers which post prohibitions on all weapons.
Charter Schools Are Coming To Fairfax
On Monday, April 19, 1999 the Fairfax County School Board is hosting a public hearing on Charter Schools. The Board is currently considering a plan that would allow schools with special populations (minority, special ed, at-risk, etc.) become a Charter School.
An example that was used at a work session was a school that is in danger of losing accreditation because of SOA scores could seek approval from the School Board to become a Charter School. Recent State legislation gives the local school board the authority to accept applications for charter schools. A charter school must meet the requirements of the Standards of Quality, however, it is yet unclear about getting a waiver of Standards of Accreditation.
THE FAIRFAX COUNTY COUNCIL OF PTAS HAS CONSISTENTLY BEEN OPPOSED TO CHARTER SCHOOLS.
The following is the position of the National PTA.
Charter Schools must:
Charter schools must not:
IT IS ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE FOR FAIRFAX CITIZENS TO EXPRESS THEIR CONCERNS TO THE SCHOOL BOARD ON APRIL 19, 1999. TO SIGN UP TO SPEAK, CALL 246-3646.
The Computer In The Classroom: A Powerful Tool for Improvement and Change
by Dinah Bain and Margaret Barkley Byess
With contributions from Carol Rheimers and members of the FCCPTA Budget Committee
The FCPS FY 1999 Technology Plan is a significant improvement in format, content, analysis, and approach over the past plans. Our report analyzes the Technology Plan by using the criteria presented in School Technology and Readiness Report: From Pillars to Progress (the STaR Report, see Pages 1 - 5 for details). The five performance areas are hardware, connectivity, digital content, professional development, and integration and use. These five combined lead to educational benefits, ranging from the mastery of basic skills in a school with a low tech profile, to student-centered, authentic, project-based, collaborative learning, and students and teachers communicating with parents, experts, other students, and teachers outside the school in a target technology school.
HARDWARE (Pages 8 - 10). To establish a more precise definition of hardware needs FCPS Department of Information Technology staff developed technology profiles for elementary, middle, and high schools. The target hardware level for each school is a function of the number of classrooms, teachers, computer labs, administrative offices, ESL and special education students, and type and number of course offerings. The profiles are an excellent step toward defining need in relationship to curriculum.
Based on these figures, FCPS system-wide is at only 32% of the target. However, there is a significant difference between elementary, middle, and high school in what percentage of the target goal has been achieved. Middle schools are at the low end, with only 22% of the target, while high schools, alternative schools, and centers are at the high end. The FCCPTA is particularly concerned about the middle school technology gap. It appears that many students are leaving elementary schools that have reasonable access to technology and moving into middle schools with very limited access; this is bound to be disruptive to their educational development. The FCCPTA strongly urges the Strategic Technology Planning Council to reconsider its criteria for allocation of hardware to focus on middle and elementary school programs.
There is a difficult balance to maintain in allocating computers to individual schools. If allocations are made solely on the basis of reducing inequities, then schools that have taken the initiative to acquire computers on their own will be penalized and those that have not made the effort will be rewarded. On the other hand, if equity is not a consideration, the children themselves will be penalized. For the FCCPTA the bottom line is the consequences for our children. For the sake of our children we believe that computers should be allocated on the basis of equity whenever possible.
CONNECTIVITY (Pages 11 - 12). The second of the five components of the successful technology-rich school is connectivity. Throughout FCPS over 18,000 computers are now connected to the Internet. The numbers of computers with access to both local and Internet-based networking has increased significantly in the past two fiscal years, and is proposed to increase significantly again in the FY 1999 Technology Plan. FCPS has reached a level of connectivity that allows efficiency improvements in its operations through application of distance learning techniques. The FCCPTA recommends that FCPS explore possible future uses of the Internet to offer courses through distance learning.
In past reports the FCCPTA has urged establishment of an e-mail system that would allow parents and teachers to communicate via e-mail. This capability now exists in many of our schools, but is not widely used. Some school staff have expressed concern about parent-teacher e-mail, feeling that if it is used to discuss homework assignments it would reduce the student’s responsibility. The FCCPTA believes that this is a small risk compared to the tremendous benefits that could occur if e-mail were available to enable teachers and parents to consult on an individual student’s academic progress. The FCCPTA strongly supports the use of e-mail to enhance home-school communications, and recommends that schools begin to routinely collect e-mail addresses as they now routinely collect telephone numbers.
CONTENT (Pages 13 - 14). Without hardware and Internet connections, there could be no content. With content we begin to get at the heart of the issue of improving educational performance through technology. A thorough review of the range of computer software applications currently used in FCPS merits additional study over the next year, and we suggest it be undertaken jointly by the Education and Technology Chairs of the FCCPTA.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT (Pages 14 - 16). Good hardware, good connections, and good content are all to no avail if teachers don’t know how to use them effectively in the classroom. Nor should the role of the principal as an advocate for and leader in technology integration be under-estimated. The successful use of technology in schools requires a substantial commitment to staff development to achieve high results from investment in technology. The FCCPTA’s analysis indicates that FCPS is seriously under-funding technology-related staff development, and possibly risking the effective implementation of technology in our schools.
At present FCPS has no method for assessing technology skills. However, in three years all FCPS teachers must be competent in the eight Virginia Standards of Technology in order to be re-certified. If the full benefit of technology is to be realized, FCPS needs to make a more thorough assessment of its staff development needs in the area of technology. The FCCPTA strongly encourages FCPS to incorporate assessments of staff development needs into the school technology profile.
TECHNICAL SUPPORT (Pages 16 - 17). Although technical support is included within the category of professional development in the STaR Chart, the FCCPTA feels it is of sufficient importance to discuss separately. It is also a continuing shortfall of the FCPS technology program, although it is recognized as such and much effort and money has been spent in the past year to improve technical support to schools and offices.
Many schools now have a local area network, access to the wide area network, and hundreds of computers, yet the School Board has yet to fund full-time school-based positions for our schools. The FCCPTA reiterates its recommendation from its FY 1999 proposed budget analysis that each school with a critical number of computers be allocated an additional staffing position. The FCCPTA believes this needs to be a professional level position, on either the US or the teacher salary scale. The Fairfax schools that are using technology effectively are doing so largely because they have been willing to make the staffing sacrifices to have at least one full-time technology support person.
THE TECHNOLOGY PLAN: RECOMMENDATIONS ON FORMAT AND CONTENT (Pages 17 - 18). The format and descriptive material in the FY 1999 Technology Plan are greatly improved over those of the FY 1998 Integrated Technology Plan. The Strategic Technology Planning Council (STPC) is to be commended for its work in this area, and for its demonstration of how a well-structured team representing the technical, general education, and special education departments of FCPS central staff can together effectively plan and coordinate. The actor missing in this process is the parent. The FCCPTA is sensitive to the belief of STPC members that a major element in their effectiveness has been their relatively small size. Nevertheless, the FCCPTA recommends that a mechanism for obtaining parent input on technology issues be developed. The FCCPTA is interested in working with the STPC to devise such a mechanism.
The FCCPTA also recommends making the Technology Plan a more comprehensive, "one-stop" source of information on technology activities in FCPS. We believe that, given the newness of the emphasis on technology, and the level of funding for technology, this one-stop approach is necessary. In time, as technology funding becomes part of an ongoing process integrated into all aspects of the school system, this may cease to be necessary. Details on the information the FCCPTA recommends including in the plan are on Page 18.
BENEFITS. Without measurements of the benefits associated with the use of technology there is no way of determining if our investments in technology are effective. The STaR Report states "there is a pressing need to develop new measurement tools capable of more fully describing the effect of technology on learning." We recommend that reports on progress toward developing measurement tools, and on the results of the measurements, be included in future Technology Plans.
CONCLUSIONS. The most important points of this report can be described in three words: equity, staff development, and benefits. Our analysis has shown that equity continues to be a significant problem in the allocation of technology resources--which we define to include not only hardware but technologically capable humans--both among schools and across school levels. An equitable distribution of technology resources should be the goal, and technology resources include humans and hardware. Future allocations of funds should consider both the human and hardware components of equity, and achievement of equity should be the most important criteria for allocating resources.
Our analysis has also shown that we are seriously under-investing in technology-related staff development. If we are to fully reap the benefits of our already substantial investments in technology, we have to increase our investment in the human side of technology. And finally, we must begin the difficult process of defining the benefits we expect and measuring the benefits we actually reap from our investment in technology.
The FCPS FY 1999 Technology Plan is a significant improvement in format, content, analysis, and approach over the past plans. The $22.5 million in proposed new expenditures, and the $30.1 million in ongoing expenditures to support the Department of Information Technology, represent 4.6% of total FCPS expenditures. With these funds, FCPS is working toward three objectives:
Both the private and public sectors have made substantial investments in information technology over the past 20 years. Many believe that the recent, long-lasting period of economic growth in the United States is partially attributable to the efficiency benefits being reaped by decades of private sector investment in computers. Although schools have lagged behind the rest of the public sector and the private sector in integrating technology into all aspects of the daily functioning of a school, in the past five years school systems around the United States have more than doubled their investment in information technology.
The motivation behind investment in computer technology for schools at all levels are:
However, these benefits do not accrue simply because a computer has been purchased and installed in a classroom. Just as employees had to be trained and work restructured in the private sector in response to the changes that technology brings to the workplace, school staff must be trained and curriculum (the student's "work") must be restructured.
This report will review the characteristics of school districts that have successfully integrated a high level of information technology into their schools. Then we will describe the content of the FY 1999 Technology Plan for FCPS, followed by an analysis of how we stack up against the characteristics of a successful technology-rich school system, and what we need to do in the future to ensure that our investments in information technology are used effectively.
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE WHEN IT IS DONE WELL?
Moving our students, teachers, their classrooms, and the offices that support them into the information age is a gargantuan task. It takes good planning, lots of money, and a system that assesses and reassesses its progress as it proceeds through its plans. Most of the information currently available on assessment of investment in technology in schools focuses on the classroom and instructional side of that investment. What follows in this section is reflective of the predominant approach in the literature. However, a significant portion of FCPS technology expenditures is for administrative functions. We will discuss these expenditures, but unfortunately have not found any guidelines for recommended balances between instructional and administrative technology investments.
More specific criteria for evaluating the use of technology in schools are presented in the October 1997 School Technology and Readiness Report: From Pillars to Progress (the STaR Report). This report was prepared by the CEO Forum on Education and Technology, a partnership between U.S. business and education leaders formed to make a difference in American schools. This year's report is the first of four annual issues and involved an assessment of the state of technology integration in almost 80,000 public schools. The STaR Report's analysis is based on five areas of performance:
1) Hardware, or the number and type of computers per student, as well as the availability of maintenance;
2) Connectivity, or the availability of a local area network, Internet connections, and connection speed;
3) Digital content, the availability of various computer applications for learning, from drill and practice software to applications for creativity, simulation, research, and networked communication.
4) Professional development, defined by the number of hours of training, the number of years of experience with technology, and the nature of technical support.
5) Integration and use, with the variants being the role of the teacher, the pattern of student technology use, the pattern of teacher technology use, and class length.
These five combined lead to:
6) Education benefits, ranging from the mastery of basic skills in a school with a low tech profile, to student-centered, authentic project-based learning, collaborative learning, and students and teachers communicating with parents, experts, other students, and teachers outside the school in a target technology school.
The STaR Chart, shown in the following pages, uses these six areas to describe technology presence, use, and integration at four different levels of effectiveness, ranging from the "Low Technology" school that uses technology primarily for administrative functions, to the "Target Technology" school that integrates technology throughout the curriculum. The STaR Chart also defines the educational benefits each level of technology integration offers. The chart can help a school identify its current educational technology profile and, based on the educational outcomes it values, target its future profile. These criteria help move the focus of planning and assessment away from hardware and head counts to a more comprehensive assessment of use.
The STaR criteria provide a framework to assess FCPS's progress toward fully utilizing technology to achieve its educational objectives. FCPS can determine its current status in each of the indicators and use that information to plan and budget. The STaR Report authors assessed nearly 80,000 public schools nationwide and found that almost 60% of U.S. schools are "Low Tech," lacking adequate classroom technology. Only 3% of schools nationwide have fully integrated technology into the classroom.
How does FCPS measure overall? Each of these areas will be discussed in more detail below, but an "eyeball" assessment is useful to begin. In the hardware area, FCPS has sufficient high-end and total computers to fall in the "Target Tech" area for middle and high schools but not for elementary schools (see Figure 1). In the other hardware areas, such as students per multi-media computer, students per CD-ROM, and maintenance, however, we are still at a lower level.
In terms of connectivity, all of our schools have at a minimum an Internet connection in the library. Many schools have additional Internet connections in computer laboratories, and all have at least the lowest level of e-mail. Access to digital content is partially determined by access to hardware and Internet connections. In some schools, at some levels, and in some courses, there is access to the full range of digital content shown in the STaR Chart. However, in most schools access to the highest levels of computer uses--simulation, research, and productivity applications--is intermittent.
In the area of professional development, our record is again quite irregular. Some teachers have the level of expertise to meet the STaR criteria for the highest "invention level" skill stage. However, "just-in-time" technical support is not a characteristic of our system. Assessment of the final category, Integration and Use, is far more difficult and cannot be done by the FCCPTA in this report. However, given the inconsistent distribution of hardware and Internet connections, the uneven level of professional development in technology areas, and our consistent underfunding of technical support and maintenance, it is unlikely that as a system we have managed to achieve consistent integration of technology in any one school, with the possible exception of some of our older, well-established magnet programs such as Bailey's Elementary School and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. And even Bailey's was just recently fully connected to the Internet, with connections in each classroom.
This brief assessment indicates not only that there are ongoing equity issues that must be addressed, but that equity is a much deeper problem than just the distribution of high-end computers. Equity must be judged by access to all the components of the target technology profile, and by the successful use of those components to achieve the education benefits described in the STaR Chart. The FCPS FY 1999 Technology Plan should be analyzed with these criteria in mind, and in light of how they help move FCPS towards the Target Technology Profile of the STaR report.
OVERVIEW OF THE FY 1999 TECHNOLOGY PLAN
The FY 1999 Technology Plan is a significant improvement over earlier plans. It includes, for the first time, a statement of goals, objectives, and benefits, and has begun to define measurable indicators for determining if these objectives are met. It has a longer range outlook, including plans for the next six years. It incorporates an assessment of where we are now, including for the first time an inventory of the computers in FCPS schools. It is based on technology profiles for elementary, middle, and high schools, alternative schools, and special education centers, that tie enrollment, programs, and staffing together to define the number and type of computers needed at each school. This targeted level of computers has then been compared to actual numbers of computers in the schools to determine the technology gap.
We commend FCPS staff for the tremendous progress they have made in refining the planning process for implementation of technology in FCPS. However, there are still many miles to go before we reach the goal of a technology-rich school system, and some of the elements key to reaching that goal are not sufficiently addressed in the Technology Plan.
The FY 1999 Technology Plan and related documents can be downloaded from the FCPS web site at http://www.fcps.k12.va.us/IT/pubs/index.htm, so we will not repeat the details of this document here. However, a summary of the key expenditure areas of the plan and a comparison of those with the levels recommended by planners as necessary for achieving a technology-rich school environment are included here. (The data and figures in this report are based on March 1998 information. April 1998 data are now available on the Department of Information Technology section of the FCPS web-site.)
Total FCPS technology-related expenditures are not presented in detail in any one location. Details on the operating expenses for the Department of Information Technology (DIT) are contained in the FCPS FY 1999 Proposed Budget. An overview of the additional proposed expenditures in the Technology Plan is also included, which was supplemented through the later release of the Technology Plan. Staff development funding for technology-related training, much of which is independent of the specific training included as part of the new projects funded in the Technology Plan, is not broken out separately.
Each pyramid has two positions, for a total of 46 positions, that support school-based technology. One, the pyramid technology training specialist, supports local technology staff development needs and the other, the technical specialist, provides maintenance and technical support. The expenditures on these positions are not included in the Technology Plan. The pyramid trainer positions are included in the Area Office budgets, and the technical specialists, for the time being at least, are under DIT allocations in the FY 1999 proposed budget.
In addition, it appears that almost all schools have designated a local staff person as technology coordinator or the equivalent. This has been done in a wide variety of ways. Some schools use an instructional aide position to do this; some have released teachers from some or all of their teaching responsibilities to focus on technology; some use parent and community volunteers; some schools have converted a teaching position to a technology coordinator position; and some schools have assigned the responsibility to other full-time staff members. None of these technology-related expenditures is included in any of the technology budget information.
There are also expenditures on technology-related equipment and infrastructure in the capital side of the budget as well. Unfortunately, we have been unable to identify most of the staff development and technology-related capital expenditures.
We estimate that FCPS has proposed spending $54.2 million for technology as part of its FY 1999 Advertised Budget: $22.5 million through the amended FY 1999 Technology Plan, plus more than $30.1 million for DIT in the FY 1999 FCPS Advertised Budget (see Figure 2). This estimate is based only on expenditures from the School Operating Fund, and as such is lower than actual expenditures. It does not include any school-based staffing that the schools themselves have established. There are small amounts in other areas of the proposed budget, such as in school-based staff development, which should also be considered technology funding.
The FY 1999 expenditures represent a slight increase over FY 1998; in FY 1998 technology expenditures were about 4.5% of the total School Operating Fund. This percentage rises to slightly over 4.6% proposed for FY 1999. In the Report to the President on the Use of Technology to Strengthen K-12 Education in the United States by the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, Panel on Educational Technology (March 1997), it was recommended that at least 5% of all educational spending be earmarked for technology-related expenses on an ongoing basis. If FCPS were to spend 5% of the FY 1999 Proposed Budget, technology-related spending would be at $58.9 million, a difference of $4.7 million.
Most analyses of successful technology-rich schools recommend that approximately 30% of the technology budget be spent on staff development. FCPS does not break down its staff development expenditures in a way that permits precise assignment of expenditures to technology and non-technology subjects. Of the $22.5 in the FY 1999 Technology Plan, only $1.3 million is for staff development. In addition, DIT will spend another $237,000 on training its own staff. There are other technology-related courses included in the regular FCPS staff development offerings that are part of the $2.6 million expenditure on the FCPS Academy Courses, and schools have approximately $3,000 each for locally-determined staff development uses, some of which may be used for technology areas. In addition, the pyramid technology staff positions conduct some training, and many schools have converted a teaching position to a technology coordinator position. This person also trains school staff and provides on-site, ongoing support for technology integration efforts.
At a minimum, FCPS is spending only 6% of its technology funds on staff development, about one-fifth of the recommended level. Even if half of the FCPS Academy courses and local staff development funds are used for technology (probably a high estimate), total technology staff development would double, but still only be 9% of all technology expenditures.
The successful use of technology in schools requires a substantial commitment to staff development to achieve high results from a school's investment in technology. These figures indicate that FCPS is seriously under-funding technology-related staff development, and possibly risking the effective implementation of technology in our schools. Further discussion of this topic may be found in the section on professional development later in this report.
The projects contained within the FY 1999 Technology Plan are categorized into four areas: instruction and learning, supporting technology, technology infrastructure, and replacement. The distribution of technology expenditures among these categories is shown in Figure 3. Expenditures on Instruction and Learning uses will increase over 50% in FY 1999; expenditures on supporting technology will increase slightly, while the other two areas will drop significantly.
The distribution of Instruction and Learning expenditures on technology is shown in Figure 4. High schools received the bulk of the investment in both FY 1998 and FY 1999, although elementary schools will receive almost as much in FY 1999. The increase in this category is due primarily to the establishment of additional technical support capacity, a much needed effort and a key component of the "Target Tech" school from the STaR Report. Of the 24 new staff positions that will be created as part of this effort, 18 of them are school-based. The remaining six will be placed in area offices and central departments. Three additional positions will be out-sourced to provide Help Center assistance. Elementary school level funding also will increase, due primarily to a higher level of funding for the Elementary Model Technology School project. (Additional details on funding are available at the FCPS web-site, referenced previously.)
The major items of expenditure in Supporting Technology are the Human Resources Information System, a new computerized system for personnel and payroll functions and the continued implementation of the Student Information System (SASI). SASI is in its second year of implementation, with full implementation to be completed in all schools in FY 2000. (See Figure 5.) Technology infrastructure expenditures will be focused principally on continued upgrading of FCPS Internet capabilities, and a pilot Internet content filtering effort.
Because hardware is the first building block in integrating technology into a school system, too many analyses have focused principally on distribution of hardware. As we have emphasized already, hardware is only one of five elements of a successful effort to integrate technology into the daily activities of a school. The overall numbers presented indicate that FCPS as a whole has reached the "Target Tech" level in students per computer, defined by the StaR Report as a computer with a 386 processor. FCPS defines its high-end computers as having a 486 processor or higher, so the categories are not congruent.
In an effort to establish a more precise definition of need--one that determines the need for computers based on a combination of enrollment, programs, and staffing, FCPS Department of Information Technology staff have developed technology profiles for elementary, middle, and high schools. These profiles, although not yet finalized, establish a target level of hardware, including computer work stations, local printers, high-speed printers, servers, and portable keyboards. The target for each school will be a function of the number of classrooms, teachers, computer labs, administrative offices, ESL and special education students, and type and number of course offerings. The profiles are an excellent step toward defining need in relationship to curriculum.
The technology profiles also provide a measure of where FCPS is and where it's going, school by school. The FY 1999 Technology Plan initiatives, summarized by each school's acquisition of computers under each project, can then be mapped against each school's technology profile and inventory to determine its current status and program-driven need. In addition, using these hardware targets, FCPS can compare the current level of hardware in each school with the target level. The results indicate that FCPS still has tremendous problems with equitable distribution of computers among schools.
The data in Figure 6 are based on the most recently revised profiles, but are nevertheless still tentative. Schools and departments are still validating the profiles, which should be finalized by the end of the school year and in place for planning for the coming year. Based on these figures, system-wide we are at only 32% of the target. However, there is a significant difference between elementary, middle, and high school in what percentage of the target goal has been achieved. Middle schools are at the low end, with only 22% of the target, while high schools, alternative schools, and centers are at the high end.
Within each level there are further variations (see Figure 7). Very few schools system-wide are over 60% of target; slightly over half our schools are under 30% of the target. There are proportionately more middle schools under 30% of target than among any other groups; moreover, there is only one middle school even over 40% of the target level, and none over 60%. And on a percentage basis, more than twice as many high schools have reached 60% of the target level as elementary schools.
While the FY 1999 Technology Plan uses the school profiles as a way to define need for hardware in FCPS, the profiles were not used in determining which schools received computers from Technology Plan initiatives. The decision on allocation of hardware is made at various different levels. Classroom computers required to support particular curriculum areas (e.g., the geosystems and biology classes) are assigned to specific schools by the Department of Instructional Services using a lottery system. Computers for more general uses--multi-media workstations for computer laboratories, ESL computers, and the Elementary Model Technology Program--are assigned by the area offices and are also done using a lottery system.
The additional computers anticipated to be purchased under the Technology Plan are shown in Figure 8. Again, these figures are tentative. They are based on January 1998 prices; hardware prices are currently declining and the School Board has modified the Technology Plan in its advertised budget, so the figures should be considered indicative, not exact. These allocation patterns further exacerbate the inequities already described. High schools will receive the bulk of the computers, yet they are already closer to target than any other group. Middle schools will receive the lowest share relative to their gap, yet they are furthest away from target. Given that school-by-school allocations are determined by lottery, there is little likelihood that inequities within each school level will diminish either.
There is a difficult balance to maintain in allocating computers to individual schools. Some schools have many computers because their staff and parents have made a concerted effort to find outside sources of funding, hardware, and software. Other schools may not yet have the physical infrastructure to install many computers in the classroom. Others may not have many computers because computer acquisition has not been a focus of the school's administration or parents. If allocations are made solely on the basis of reducing inequities, then schools that have taken the initiative to acquire computers on their own will be penalized and those that have not made the effort will be rewarded. On the other hand, if equity is not a consideration, the children themselves will be penalized.
For the FCCPTA the bottom line is the consequences for our children. In a perfect world schools would be rewarded for their initiative and children in schools without computers would get them as well. Although the FCCPTA would like to reward those good schools, for the sake of our children we believe that computers should be allocated on the basis of equity whenever possible. Even allocation of computers tied to specific courses should be done, when possible, with equity in mind, giving computers to those schools with the lowest share of target first. At the same time, the FCCPTA suggests that a portion of the Technology Plan funding be set aside as "grant" funds to be awarded to schools with outstanding technology programs.
Moreover, the pattern of technology hardware funding is precisely opposite that recommended by The Harvard Education Letter. We may have good reasons for emphasizing high school funding over elementary funding, but it should at least be explicitly discussed. We are particularly concerned about the middle school technology gap. It appears that many students are leaving elementary schools that have reasonable access to technology and moving into middle schools with very limited access; this is bound to be disruptive to their educational development. The FCCPTA strongly urges the Strategic Technology Planning Council to reconsider its criteria for allocation of hardware to focus on middle and elementary school programs.
The second of the five components of the successful technology-rich school is connectivity. The "Target Tech" level requires classroom access to a local area network and Internet access through a high-speed dedicated line. FCPS is well along toward becoming a "Target Tech" school as defined in the STaR connectivity indicators, despite ongoing equity issues which must still be addressed. Throughout FCPS over 18,000 computers are now connected to the Internet. The numbers of computers with access to both local and Internet-based networking has increased significantly in the past two fiscal years, and is proposed to increase significantly again in the FY 1999 Technology Plan.
With the accelerating integration of computers into society, the rise in popularity of the Internet and World Wide Web, and the rapid advancements in technology, it is increasingly important that educators effectively integrate technology into mainstream curricula. Network capabilities are now critical for all FCPS sites. In order to provide those capabilities, FCPS has developed an integrated network services delivery model that encompasses three levels of networking service to schools, centers, and departments.
All Fairfax County schools are fully connected to the Internet at Level 1 or will be by the end of FY 1998. Funds are included in the FY 1999 Technology Plan to make significant progress toward upgrading all sites to Level 2 by the end of FY 1999. The servers being installed in each school to support the SASI student information system will also be used for local networks. The servers already in place in middle and high schools will be able to support local networks when SASI is upgraded as part of its extension to elementary schools.
The tremendous Internet and local-area network capability that FCPS is developing has applications other than e-mail and on-line research. "Distance learning" classes can be offered, making it possible for students in under-enrolled classes at different schools to share a teacher. Staff development courses can be offered over the Internet, allowing staff to save on transportation time and to complete the course work at a time and pace more convenient to their schedules. Homebound students could receive assignments and lessons via the Internet, saving time and transportation expenses.
Parents could take refresher courses in high school level courses to help their students. Members of the community could participate in distance learning classes offered by FCPS, allowing FCPS to extend its services to the community at large and improving support from the community. The FCCPTA recommends that FCPS explore future possible uses of the Internet to offer courses through distance learning. We believe there are many possible applications of distance learning that would allow FCPS to improve the efficiency of its operations.
Internet connectivity can also be used to improve home-school communications. In past reports the FCCPTA has urged establishment of an e-mail system that would allow parents and teachers to communicate via e-mail. This capability now appears to exist in many of our schools, but is not being widely used to enhance communications between teachers, parents, and students. Some school technology coordinators have expressed concern about parent-teacher e-mail, feeling that if it is used to discuss homework assignments it would reduce the student's responsibility for keeping track of assignments. The FCCPTA believes that this is a small risk compared to the tremendous benefits that could occur if e-mail were available to enable teachers and parents to consult on an individual student's academic progress. The FCCPTA strongly supports the use of e-mail to enhance home-school communications, and recommends that schools begin to routinely collect e-mail addresses as they now routinely collect telephone numbers.
There is one additional issue, addressed only peripherally in the FY 1999 Technology Plan, that should be further analyzed before next year's Technology Plan is reviewed. Internet content filtering is a topic that should have been resolved well before our schools were connected to the Internet. However, we now have well-connected schools, and no policy.
The School Board has funded, for FY 1999, a small project for one pyramid that will provide some Internet content filtering. The School Board is also in the midst of a discussion on their policy on filtering. The FCCPTA, acknowledging that this complex topic is at its core a freedom of expression issue, recommends further study by a group of parents representing the FCCPTA Budget, Technology and Education Committees.
Without hardware and Internet connections, there could be no content. With content we begin to get at the heart of the issue of improving educational performance through technology. There are five criteria in the Content area for being a "Target Tech" school. They are the availability of:
FCPS uses many different types of computer applications in these areas, ranging from the Success Maker integrated learning system to Interactive Physics to the new GeoSystems programs for high school students and that old stand-by, Claris Works.
In addition, all schools have on-line research capabilities. One excellent approach FCPS has taken to improve access to on-line research capabilities is the service purchased from ProQuest. This on-line periodical library is available to many FCPS middle and high school students and their families, either from their home computer or from a school computer. This tremendous research resource reduces the "seam" between home and school learning. In the area of networked communication systems, all schools now have them, but it is unclear if all students have access to the systems.
We have not been able to conduct a thorough review of the range of computer software applications currently used in FCPS. This subject merits additional study over the next year, and we suggest it be undertaken jointly by the Education and Technology Chairs of the FCCPTA.
Without measurements of the benefits associated with the use of technology in these five content areas, including but not limited to improvements in student achievement, we have no way of determining if our investments in technology are effective. The STaR Report states "there is a pressing need to develop new measurement tools capable of more fully describing the effect of technology on learning." The STaR Report authors are collecting data for future reports to provide some of the information needed. FCPS is also working to develop measurement tools. We recommend that reports on progress toward developing measurement tools, and on the results of the measurements, be included in future Technology Plans. Although we recognize that measurement of the benefits of technology, isolated from the benefits of other FCPS educational programs, is difficult without setting up a proper experimental setting with control groups, nevertheless we believe we must try to do this.
We are also aware that intense professional dispute is occurring over the use of the CCC - Success Maker software. At the heart of the dispute is a fundamental difference in the conception of the role of the teacher and whether the teacher can be replaced--at least partially--by technology. To quote Marianne O'Brien, FCPS instructional technology coordinator, "This issue [that of substituting machines for people] was reflected last spring in the Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools...The district faced the difficult question of whether to expand access to a software program that helps elementary school students with language arts, math, and other basic skills - help that a teacher might have provided. We just aren't sure it makes enough difference to justify the cost. There are other things we'd rather do with the money - like give more students access to technology and do more creative things with it."
The opposing view point is represented by many Area I principals. One in particular points out that by setting up a computer lab with 15 computers, staffed by an instructional assistant, over 300 children can receive individualized instruction for 15 minutes per day, every day of the week. This represents 75 hours per day of individualized instruction. The same computer program tracks student progress, designs individualized homework or classroom drill assignments, and prepares reports for the classroom teacher in each child's strengths and weaknesses. This is a use of a computer technology which helps teachers more efficiently deliver individualized services to children.
The FCCPTA believes this topic--the use of integrated learning systems software--needs careful investigation by an independent group of parents, teachers, and administrators before the additional funds for computer-assisted instruction included in the FY 1999 Advertised Budget are expended. We must not foreclose any effective options for improving services to our children, even if these options require fundamental changes in our definition of the role of the teacher. The use of information technology has radically changed many of the industries in which it is used; we must be prepared for the possibility that our schools as well may be fundamentally altered.
Good hardware, good connections, and good content are all to no avail if your teachers don't know how to use them effectively in the classroom. Education occurs in the classroom; the professional development of the teacher must be a priority. Nor should the role of the principal as an advocate for and leader in technology integration be under-estimated.
The STaR Report defines four levels of technology skill for teachers. These have been shown previously in the STaR Chart and are offered as guidelines, not requirements. Not all staff will need 71 hours of training or more in order to reach the invention level of skill; some who have an affinity for computers will be able to learn all the necessary skills through self-teaching and experimentation. However, for many people, extensive staff development is necessary to become accomplished users of computers in their own right, and then additional assistance and time is needed to integrate those skills into daily classroom activities.
In the Report to the President on the Use of Technology to Strengthen K-12 Education, the Panel states:
What teachers actually need is in-depth, sustained assistance as they work to integrate computer use into the curriculum and confront the tension between traditional methods of instruction and new pedagogic methods that make extensive use of technology. Such assistance should include not only purely technical support, but pedagogic support as well, ideally including observation within the classrooms of successful technology-using teachers, periodic consultation with more experienced mentors, and ongoing communication with other teachers grappling with similar challenges.
Where do FCPS staff fall on the STaR indicators? There is no way to know. At present FCPS has no method for assessing technology skills. However, in three years all FCPS teachers must be competent in the eight Virginia Standards of Technology in order to be recertified (see text box at right). FCPS is now developing the criteria to be used for this certification. Tentative plans are to require the teacher to provide a portfolio which demonstrates both the skills and their application in the classroom. The FCCPTA believes that input from our technologically savvy kids would also be a valuable component of technology skills assessments for teachers.
By the few measures we have available we appear to be seriously under-investing in staff development for technology. We do not have an assessment system to determine what teacher competencies in technology are; technology-related staff development is significantly less than benchmark recommendations. There are more and more Academy course offerings that pertain to technology, both in terms of acquisition of basic skills and in curriculum integration areas. Many of the Technology Plan approved projects include staff development components, but with the exception of the Model Technology Program training, which is said to be excellent, they are often directed at the specific applications. However, the over 40 courses that were offered last fall to train elementary school staff on the new math programs make no reference in the course description to integration of the computer in teaching these courses. What a missed opportunity to reach elementary school teachers teaching a subject that is well-suited for computer applications!
If the full benefit of technology is to be realized, FCPS needs to make a more thorough assessment of its staff development needs in the area of technology. To use technology in an interdisciplinary, cross-curricular fashion to foster a learner-centered rather than teacher-centered environment will require significant changes in teaching style and methods. None of the courses in the FCPS Academy listings approach technology integration in this fashion.
The first step in improving our technology-related staff development offerings is to make a better determination of staff development needs. All staff could take an on-line technology competency assessment. When all staff have completed the assessment, the program could automatically compile a school-wide profile of the technology competencies of the staff. This profile would provide a much better basis for staff development planning, and would be of use to school staff in the development of their own school plans as well. The FCCPTA strongly encourages FCPS to incorporate assessments of staff development needs into the school technology profile. It need not be done in the fashion suggested here, but it does need to be done.
Although technical support is included within the category of professional development in the STaR Chart, we feel it is of sufficient importance to discuss separately. It is also a continuing shortfall of the FCPS technology program, although it is recognized as such and much effort and money has been spent in the past year to improve technical support to schools and offices within the school system.
Within the past three years 46 new pyramid-based positions have been added to support school technology use. The pyramid technology trainers assist in training functions. In addition, 23 new positions were added in FY 1998 to provide technical support. As mentioned before, most schools have designated a staff person as technology coordinator, but the manner in which this position is funded and the definition of responsibilities vary greatly from school to school. Many schools now have a local area network, access to the wide area network, and hundreds of computers, yet the School Board has yet to fund full-time school-based positions for our schools. The FCCPTA reiterates its recommendation from its FY 1999 proposed budget analysis that each school with a critical number of computers be allocated an additional staffing position. The FCCPTA believes this needs to be a professional level position, either on the US or the teacher salary scale. The Fairfax schools that are using technology effectively are doing so largely because they have been willing to make the staffing sacrifices to have at least one full-time technology support person.
THE TECHNOLOGY PLAN: RECOMMENDATIONS ON FORMAT AND CONTENT
The format and descriptive material in the FY 1999 Technology Plan are greatly improved over those of the FY 1998 Integrated Technology Plan. The Strategic Technology Planning Council (STPC) is to be commended for its work in this area, and for its demonstration of how a well-structured team representing the technical, general education, and special education departments of FCPS central staff can together effectively plan and coordinate. The actor missing in this process is the parent. The FCCPTA is sensitive to the belief of STPC members that a major element in their effectiveness has been their relatively small size. Nevertheless, the FCCPTA recommends that a mechanism for obtaining parent input on technology issues be developed. The FCCPTA is interested in working with the STPC to devise such a mechanism.
The major improvement in the FY 1999 plan was the use of school profiles to determine hardware and connectivity needs. While this still results in counting metal boxes, rather than measuring effectiveness of use, it nevertheless provides both individual snapshots and system-wide portraits of the deployment of technology. The next step in the development of school technology profiles is to incorporate assessments of content and staff development.
Some of this may already be addressed at the school level in school plans; many schools have technology plans that are part of their school plans. However, DIT does not at present use the schools' own planning processes or documents to supplement its own plans. Because both schools and departments are working toward the priorities set by the School Board, these plans should be part of a continuum of planning. The DIT plans should be congruent with the school plans, and the school plans with DIT's overall plans. The Department of Instructional Support and the Department of Student Services and Special Education should also have important roles to play in this process as the foremost sources of expertise on integration of technology in the curriculum.
There is also an equity issue; however, determining the minimum number of computers necessary for each school is only part of the resolution of this issue. We cannot simply count computers, as the profiles are still doing--there must also be some measure of effective use. An equitable distribution of technology resources should be the goal, and technology resources include humans and hardware. Future allocations of funds should consider both the human and hardware components of equity, and achievement of equity should be the most important criteria for allocating resources.
The definition of benefits and measurement of benefits specific to projects is also still weak, but this is a very complex area. We know that FCPS staff are working on this area, and will watch with interest as the process evolves. Many educational benefits are "external," that is, they are not capturable by the system. The salary a student receives in an after-school or part-time job may be higher because of technology skills; that is a worthwhile product of our investment in technology, but it is not one the school system can easily measure. FCCPTA hopes that the measurements that are obtained will be reported periodically as meaningful data become available, and that a year-end progress report on both the indicators of achievement and their measurement be made.
Implementing the following recommendations would make the Technology Plan a more comprehensive, "one-stop" source of information on technology activities in FCPS. We believe that, given the newness of the emphasis on technology, and the level of funding for technology, this one-stop approach is necessary. In time, as technology funding becomes part of an ongoing process integrated into all aspects of the school system, this may cease to be necessary.
a. Project director information;
b. Expenditures by fiscal year for the life of the project;
c. A breakdown of expenditures by major sub-object code, particularly to include hardware, software, staff development, position(s) and benefits, and maintenance costs for the proposed fiscal year; and
d. A project schedule for the proposed current fiscal year.
The most important points of this report can be described in three words: equity, staff development, and benefits. Our analysis has shown that equity continues to be a significant problem in the allocation of technology resources--which we define to include not only hardware but technologically capable humans--both among schools and across school levels. Our analysis has also shown that we are seriously under-investing in technology-related staff development. If we are to fully reap the benefits of our already substantial investments in technology, we have to increase our investment in the human side of technology. And finally, we must begin the difficult process of defining the benefits we expect and measuring the benefits we actually reap from our investment in technology.
Fairfax County Council Of PTA's Position:
We support public funds for public schools only and oppose using tax dollars to finance education vouchers for private and religious schools.
Education vouchers are generally defined as certificates for parents of students to use specifically to help finance the costs of attending a school other than an assigned public school. Most voucher proposals would provide funding that could be used at private and parochial schools. Thus the process would transfer public tax dollars to nonpublic schools to cover the costs of tuition and fees. Some proposals even include funds for parents who teach their children at home.
Voucher programs are mired in controversy. Legal appeals over public dollars financing religious education are now confronting those states where legislators enacted pilot voucher projects. Furthermore, there is no strong evidence to prove voucher programs improve student achievement.
The Fairfax County Council of PTA's encourages members of the General Assembly to vote against any legislation that contains language authorizing tax dollars for private and religious school vouchers.
How Children Learn to Read
Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities
Building Blocks of Reading
Reading skills are like building blocks. To learn to read well, children need the blocks of knowing the sounds of letters and the blocks of knowing the meanings of words (vocabulary), word parts (grammatical markers) and groups of words (overall meaning or semantics). To build these foundations of reading, children need effective reading instruction.
The best ways for parents to learn about the kinds of reading instruction at their child's school is to talk with teachers, listen to him or her talk about what they do during the day, and examine homework assignments. Knowing the differences between phonics and whole language - the two main approaches to teaching reading - can help parents determine what methods their child's school is using to teach reading.
Phonics focuses on the sounds of letters and words.
A phonics approach focuses instruction on learning to associate printed letters and combinations of letters with their corresponding sounds. Phonics instruction gives students strategies to unlock or decode words.
A phonics approach to teaching reading can include:
Whole language focuses on comprehension.
The whole language approach is based on the understanding that reading is finding the meaning in written language. Multiple experiences with words - written and spoken - are what children need to learn meanings of words.
A whole language approach to teaching reading can include:
A balanced approach can help all children learn to read.
A decade of research shows us that there is no one best way to build students' literacy skills. A balanced approach to teaching reading combines a strong foundation in phonics with whole language methods. Only through more than one kind of instruction can students gain the skills to recognize and manipulate the sounds of letters and words and the skills to understand what they read. Since all children learn differently, only a balanced approach to teaching reading can give all children the skills they need to read well.
An effective reading program.
From long-term studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health, it is known that an effective reading program should include the following components.
Reading instruction for children with learning disabilities.
For children with language-based learning disabilities, learning to read is especially difficult because they have a harder time with sounds of letters and words than their peers. Research indicates that because phonics instruction focuses on recognizing and manipulating sounds of letters and words, more intense phonics instruction may be beneficial for children with learning disabilities.
Early warning signs of learning disabilities.
If a child regularly displays one or more of these behaviors, he or she may have a learning disability and parents should seek appropriate testing and intervention from their child's school.
With diagnostic tests, it can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy which students in kindergarten and first grade will have difficulty learning to read. Identifying reading difficulties early means children have more time to learn to be successful readers. Since reading is learned more easily and effectively during the early years, identifying language-based learning disabilities and providing appropriate interventions give children more time to learn to read well.
More information about learning disabilities: Contact a member of the Coordinated Campaign Shirley Cramer, Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities (216) 231-0521 and visit the LD onLine Web site at www.ldonline.org To receive a free brochure on learning disabilities call: 1-888-GR8MIND Visit the LD OnLine Web site at www.ldonline.org
The Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) system is one of the largest in the country and has been growing rapidly since the early 1990’s. As such, FCPS is now facing significant overcrowding and the shortage of funds needed to address overall capital improvement projects. In an effort to understand and improve this situation, the Fairfax County Council Parent Teacher Association (FCCPTA) began reviewing the FCPS facilities dilemma. This year the FCCPTA decided to focus our efforts on the following:
The FCCPTA Facilities Committee took on the task described above. The review began in March of 2000 and concluded in October of the same year. The Committee used a variety of methods to gather data for this report. Specifically, we interviewed staff, teachers, principals, parents and community leaders. We conducted independent research via the Internet, discussions with independent organizations, and basic library research. Lastly, we conducted interviews with other school districts of comparable size and demographics for comparative purposes.
See attached for the complete report.
Fairfax County Council of PTA's Position:
The Fairfax Council of PTAs (FCCPTA) supports the goals of Fairfax County Public School's (FCPS) revisions to the Kindergarten Report Card, but we believe revisions are still needed to make the content of the report card easier for parents/guardians to understand and appreciate. We recommend that the FCPS School Board move to delay the implementation, and continue the pilot for another year, following revisions.
In response to Fairfax County teacher and administrator requests, the Kindergarten Progress Report has gone through a revision and field test process. The previous Kindergarten Progress Report was last revised in 1987 and no longer reflects the Kindergarten curriculum as defined by the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL). The draft revised progress report was piloted in 41 elementary schools during the 2001-2002 school year. The current draft of the Kindergarten Progress Report has been revised based on field tests and direct feedback from teachers, administrators, and parents.
The proposed Kindergarten Progress Report now reflects the Fairfax County Program of Studies (POS), the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL), and grade level benchmarks. The term "benchmark" is used in this document to indicate exactly what a child should know and be able to do by the end of kindergarten; or, grade level expectations. The purpose of the progress report is to inform parents, every nine weeks, of their child's progress in learning concepts, skills, and the ability to apply his or her knowledge in each curriculum area.
The revised Kindergarten Progress Report is divided according to the Kindergarten curriculum (Social - Emotional, Reading, Writing, Math, etc.). Each curriculum area is then sub-divided into five "Developmental Stages" - four of which every child is expected to move through as he or she progresses along a learning continuum towards meeting kindergarten, grade level, expectations. Within each developmental stage is a bulleted list of learning behaviors and skills - which become the details of the yearly goals clarified within each curriculum area.
The introduction of the Kindergarten Progress Report states, "Each student moves through the five stages of development at his or her own learning rate. Many students may demonstrate learning behaviors from more than one stage at any given time. Some will remain within the same stage for more than one reporting period. The evaluation for each nine week reporting period is based on the student's ability to demonstrate most of the learning behaviors identified within a stage of development."
FCCPTA believes the Kindergarten Progress Report clearly reflects what children, attending kindergarten, should know and be able to do as established by the Fairfax County Program of Studies (POS), the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL), and grade level benchmarks. We believe parents will greatly benefit from knowing FCPS's expectations of their children as they develop and progress socially, emotionally, and academically through kindergarten. We strongly believe that every effort should be made to assist every child in mastering kindergarten grade level expectations.
We commend the efforts of Fairfax County School's staff and parents, because we believe this document may indeed have a greater impact on every kindergarten child's learning beyond simply communicating his or her progress to his or her parents. We believe, if revised and used appropriately, this document can communicate each child's strengths and weaknesses, or areas mastered, while progressing along the kindergarten learning continuum in each curriculum area; should be recognized as a tool which significantly indicates when differentiated instructions or enriching learning experiences should be implemented; should routinely be used to assist in directing staff development; and, should be passed along to the child's first grade teacher.
Even though, during a school board instruction meeting FCPS staff indicated there would be additional revisions, we believe more modifications need to be considered. In addition, FCPS staff stated that opportunities to instruct parents in how to read and interpret the Kindergarten Progress Report during the first parent teacher conference would occur.
The draft report card does not indicate when children are functioning at the second, third or higher grade levels for any of these subjects. This puts an implicit "ceiling" on kids' achievement in KG, because it assumes that no child is or should be functioning more than one year above grade level. In reality, however, many children in kindergarten can read second/third grade books or do arithmetic that is normally taught in the second or third grade. Failing to recognize their ability and differentiate them at the kindergarten level often means that they spend the year much of the year being bored.
Having reviewed the latest revised document, Fairfax County Council of PTAs continues to believe FCPS must revise the format, be much more specific, simplify the language in the introduction, revise the labels for each of the developmental stages, and look to identifying those children who are academically functioning beyond kindergarten. We believe if teachers must spend time educating parents in how to read and interpret this document, then they must also be taking away valuable sharing time when communicating with parents their observations, questions, concerns, or recommendations. We are also concerned that the report card, in its current version, may be intimidating to some parents. Since this is the first impression many parents get of FCPS, we think the parent-teacher conference should establish a “partnership” with the parents… not intimidate them. We recommend that staff reassess the intended audience of the report card.
The four areas we are most concerned about are as follows:
The language within the latest revised introduction remains difficult to follow and interpret because it contains too much “educationeez."
We recommend simplifying the introduction.
We recommend changing the labels for each Developmental Stage
Our recommendations are:
Early Kindergarten Stage
Middle Kindergarten Stage
End of Kindergarten Stage
Beyond Kindergarten Stage
We recommend the Curriculum Progress Key be revised; the * and ** are difficult to read.
We recommend the “Opportunities for Technology Integration" be explained.
We recommend a “condensed version” of the key appear on each page.
We recommend science and social studies have their own page.
As the introduction to the Kindergarten Progress Report indicated; and, we agree, "all children do not learn in a linear fashion." Thus, we encourage FCPS to specifically identify, by adding a line or box to be checked, or request that teachers highlight each child’s specific strengths and weaknesses within each of the developmental stages identified - in order to clearly indicate skills and learning behaviors mastered throughout each of the Developmental Stages. In this manner, areas requiring additional focused instruction will be identified.
This process could be systematically accomplished over each nine-week period, as a correlative response to doing an imLbedded assessment, conducting a Running Record, making observations, etc.
To address the issue of children who are performing above kindergarten standards, Fairfax County Council of PTAs recommends adding a category for children who function at the second grade level (with all the appropriate specifics about what that means for each topic), then adding a check-off line for children in kindergarten who have mastered all the 2nd grade requirements and function at a 3rd or higher grade level. This should give the schools an incentive to determine which of the children in kindergarten need differentiated instructions and enriching lessons, especially in the math and reading areas.
3. Revise language within the Reading Curriculum:
Under "Emergent Learning" the statement is made; "Focuses on some phonics information (e.g., sound/letter cues)". This statement is not phonics.
This should be revised to read:” Recognizes most sound to letter cues” (This is an essential reading and spelling skill.)
We recommend reducing the black and white contrast throughout the document. The amount of black used throughout this document makes it visually distracting and extremely difficult to read for some.
More specifically, the reduction in contrast or elimination of the black background altogether for the developmental stage banners is necessary. Perhaps using just bolded, upper case text for each of the developmental stages would be better.
Consider using a thin line frame, and a double thin line frame around the area now referred to as "Emergent Benchmarks."
Increase the font size of the heading “Stages of Development,” and maintain the bold centered location.
Provide the software programming necessary to either add a line or box, to be checked next to each learning behavior and skill to clearly indicate mastery - this would continue the format used in the Social and Emotional Development section.
Therefore; we recommend the FCPS School Board move to delay the implementation of the Proposed Revised Kindergarten Report Card, and continue the pilot for another year; after including additional revisions as determined by the Board. Said pilot should specifically include schools, which serve high ESOL populations and lower socio-economic populations (i.e., less college educated parents).
Catch Them Before They Fall
Identification and Assessment to Prevent Reading Failure in Young Children
by Joseph K. Torgeson from American Educator, Spring/Summer 1998 reprinted by permission
One of the most compelling findings from recent reading research is that children who get off to a poor start in reading rarely catch up. As several studies have now documented, the poor first-grade reader almost invariably continues to be a poor reader (Francis, Shaywitz, Stuebing, Shaywitz, & Fletcher, 1996; Torgesen & Burgess, 1998). And the consequences of a slow start in reading become monumental as they accumulate exponentially over time. As Stanovich (1986) pointed out in his well-known paper on the "Matthew effects" (the rich get richer and the poor get poorer) associated with failure to acquire early word reading skills, these consequences range from negative attitudes toward reading (Oka & Paris, 1986), to reduced opportunities for vocabulary growth (Nagy, Herman, & Anderson, 1985), to missed opportunities for development of reading comprehension strategies (Brown, Palinscar, & Purcell, 1986), to less actual practice in reading than other children receive (Arlington, 1984).
The best solution to the problem of reading failure is to allocate resources for early identification and prevention. It is a tragedy of the first order that while we know clearly the costs of waiting too long, few school districts have in place a mechanism to identify and help children before failure takes hold. Indeed, in the majority of cases, there is no systematic identification until third grade, by which time successful remediation is more difficult and more costly.
School-based preventive efforts should be engineered to maintain growth in critical word reading skills at roughly normal levels throughout the early elementary school period. Although adequate development of these skiffs in first grade does not guarantee that children will continue to maintain normal growth in second grade without extra help, to the extent that we allow children to fall seriously behind at any point during early elementary school, we are moving to a "remedial" rather than a "preventive" model of intervention. Once children fall behind in the growth of critical word reading skills, it may require very intensive interventions to bring them back up to adequate levels of reading accuracy (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 1994; Vaughn & Schumm, 1996), and reading fluency may be even more difficult to restore because of the large amount of reading practice that is lost by children each month and year that they remain poor readers (Rashotte,Torgesen, &Wagner, 1997).
The purpose of this article is to provide practical advice about methods to prevent reading failure that is grounded in the new knowledge about reading we have acquired over the past two decades. My primary focus will be on early identification of children at risk for problems in learning to read as well as methods for monitoring the growth of critical early reading skills. The goal is to describe procedures that will allow educators to identify children who need extra help in reading before they experience serious failure and to monitor the early development of reading skill to identify children who may require extra help as reading instruction proceeds through elementary school.
The advice provided in this article is based on the research my colleagues Richard Wagner, Carol Rashotte, and I have been conducting on both prediction and prevention of reading disabilities (Torgesen, Wagner, & Rashotte, 1994; 1997; Wagner, et al., 1994; 1997) as well as the work of many other researchers that was reviewed in an earlier issue of this magazine (Summer, 1995). It is guided by several important assumptions and facts about reading, reading growth, and reading failure that will be discussed first. Following this description of assumptions and a brief outline of some critical dimensions of preventive instruction, I will describe a number of specific measures and procedures that should prove useful as educators seek ways to focus more intensive instruction on children whose needs are greatest.
Assumptions about reading, reading growth, and reading failure
Most of the points that will be discussed in this section are not, in fact, mere assumptions about reading, but, rather, are well-established facts. However, I use the word assumption here to convey the sense either that the ideas are self-evident or that they are now assumed to be true based on consistent research findings.The first of these "assumptions" is, in fact, a self-evident value judgment.
Adequate reading comprehension is the most important ultimate outcome of effective instruction in reading. The ultimate purpose of reading instruction is to help children acquire the skills that enable learning from, understanding, and enjoyment of written language. THis "assumption" is not controversial. No matter what one's personal preferences for instructional method, the end goal is to help children comprehend written material at a level that is consistent with their general intellectual abilities.
Two general types of skill and knowledge are required for good reading comprehension. Consistent with Gough's "simple view of reading" (1996), comprehension of written material requires: 1) general language comprehension ability; and 2) ability to accurately and fluently identify the words in print. Knowledge and active application of specific reading strategies is also required to maximize reading comprehension (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 1997) but most of the variability among children and adults in comprehension of written material can be accounted for by measuring the two broad families of skills identified in Gough's simple view (Hoover & Gough, 1990). That is, good general language comprehension and good word reading skills are the most critical skills required for effective comprehension of written material.
Most children who become poor readers experience early and continuing difficulties in learning how to accurately identify printed words. This difficulty is expressed most directly on two kinds of reading tasks. First, children destined to be poor readers at the end of elementary school almost invariably have difficulties understanding and applying the alphabetic principle in deciphering unfamiliar words. These children have unusual difficulties learning to use the regular patterns of correspondence between letters and sounds in words as an aid in identifying new words they encounter in text (Siegel, 1989). They have trouble "sounding out" unknown words. Second, poor readers at all grade levels are characterized by slower than normal development of a "sight vocabulary" of words they can read fluently and automatically. Ultimately, it is this difficulty in rapid word recognition that limits comprehension in older poor readers, for these skills allow children to focus on constructing the meaning of what they are reading rather than spending too many of their intellectual resources on trying to identify the words (Adams, 1990). The strongest current theories of reading growth link phonetic and "sight word" reading skills together by showing how good phonetic reading skills are necessary in the formation of accurate memory for the spelling patterns that are the basis of sight word recognition (Ehri, in press; Share & Stanovich, 1995).
The most common cause of difficulties acquiring early word reading skills is weakness in the ability to process the phonological features of language (Liberman, Shankweiler, & Liberman, 1989). This is perhaps the most important discovery about reading difficulties in the last twenty years. Weaknesses in the phonological area of language development can be measured by a variety of nonreading tasks, but the ones most commonly used assess phonemic awareness, which can be defined simply as the ability to identify, think about, or manipulate the individual sounds in words. Much of our new confidence in being able to identify children at risk for reading failure before reading instruction begins depends on the use of tests of phonemic awareness, since this ability has been shown to be causally related to the growth of early word reading skills (Lundberg, Frost, & Peterson, 1988;Wagner, et al., 1997).
Discovery of the core phonological problems associated with specific reading disability has had at least one unanticipated consequence. The ability to assess these core language problems directly has led to the discovery that the early word reading difficulties of children with relatively low general intelligence and verbal ability are associated with the same factors (weaknesses in phonological processing) that interfere with early reading growth in children who have general intelligence in the normal range (Fletcher, et al., 1994; Share & Stanovich, 1995; Stanovich & Siegel, 1994). So, weaknesses in phonemic awareness characterize children with reading problems across a broad span of general verbal ability On the one hand, many children enter school with adequate general verbal ability and cognitive weaknesses limited to the phonological/language domain. Their primary problem in learning to read involves learning to translate between printed and oral language. On the other hand, another significant group of poor readers, composed largely of children from families of lower socio-economic or minority status, enter school significantly delayed in a much broader range of prereading skills (Whitehurst & Lonigan, in press). Since these children are delayed not only in phonological but also in general oral language skills, they are deficient in both of the critical kinds of knowledge and skill required for good reading comprehension. Even if these children can acquire adequate word reading skill, their ability to comprehend the meaning of what they read may be limited by their weak general verbal abilities.
Children with general oral language weaknesses require extra instruction in a broader range of knowledge and skills than those who come to school impaired only in phonological ability. What is well established at this point, though, is that both kinds of children will require special support in the growth of early word reading skills if they are to make adequate progress in learning to read.
Elements of an effective preventive program in reading
The most critical elements of an effective program for the prevention of reading disability at the elementary school level are: (a) the right kind and quality of instruction delivered with the (b) right level of intensity and duration to the (c) right children at the (d) right time. I will briefly consider each of these elements in turn.
The right kind and quality of instruction. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss instructional methods for children with phonological processing weaknesses in any depth at all. In broad stroke, they will benefit from the same approach to reading instruction as children with normal abilities in this area - structured, systematic, and explicit - but for this at-risk group, such instruction is not just beneficial, it is critical. As experienced teachers understand (Gaskins, et al., 1996), we cannot assume that these children will acquire any necessary skill for reading words unless they are directly taught that skill or knowledge and receive sufficient opportunities to practice it. Some of the word-level skills and knowledge these children will require instruction on include: phonemic awareness, letter-sound correspondences, blending skills, a small number of pronunciation conventions (i.e., silent e rule), use of context to help specify a word once it is partially or completely phonemically decoded, strategies for multi-syllable words, and automatic recognition of high-frequency "irregular" words. It goes almost without saying that this type of instruction should be embedded within as many opportunities for meaningful reading and writing as possible.
The lesson from recent large-scale prevention studies (Brown & Felton, 1990; Foorman, et al., 1998;Torgesen, et al., 1998;Vellutino, et al., 1997) is that it is possible to maintain critical word reading skills of most children at risk for reading failure at roughly average levels if this type of instruction is provided beginning sometime during kindergarten or first grade. However, it is also true that in all studies conducted to date, substantial proportions of children with the most severe weaknesses remain significantly impaired in these critical skills following intervention. For example, if we adopt the 30th percentile as a standard for adequate reading progress, then the proportion of the total population remaining at risk in spite of the best interventions tested to date ranges from 5 percent to 7 percent (Torgesen, 1998). Although these results are clearly better than the 30 percent to 60 percent of children who frequently fall below these standards without special interventions, they nevertheless suggest that there is a core of disabled readers in the population for whom we have not yet solved the reading puzzle.
It is almost certain that some additional answers to this question will come as we direct our attention to the quality and intensity, as well as the content, of our instruction. For example, Juel (1996) has shown the importance of a particular kind of "scaffolded" interaction between teacher and child in increasing understanding and application of phonemic reading skills, and these types of interactions are also prescribed in the teacher manuals of at least two widely used instructional programs designed for children with reading disabilities (Lindamood & Lindamood, 1984; Wilson, 1988).We turn now to a brief consideration of issues surrounding intensity of instruction.
The right level of intensity. Greater intensity and duration of instruction is required because the increased explicitness of instruction for children who are at risk for reading failure requires that more things be taught directly by the teacher. Intensity of instruction is increased primarily by reducing teacher/student ratios. Unless beginning reading instruction for children with phonological weaknesses is more intensive (or lasts significantly longer) than normal instruction, these children will necessarily lag significantly behind their peers in reading growth. An effective preventive program may involve several levels of instructional intensity ranging from small-group to one-on-one instruction, depending upon the severity of the risk factors for each child.
The right children at the right time. These factors are considered together because they are both tied directly to the availability of accurate identification procedures at various age levels. That is, to be most efficient, a preventive program should be focused on the children who are most in need of special instruction. The efficiency of the entire process will be improved if procedures are available to accurately target the right children very early in the process of reading instruction. Although timing issues with regard to preventive instruction have not been completely resolved by research (Torgesen, et al., 1998),we do know, for example, that instruction in phonological awareness during kindergarten can have a positive effect on reading growth after formal reading instruction begins in the first grade (Lundberg, Frost, & Peterson, 1988).Thus, I have proceeded on the assumption that it will be useful to identify high-risk children at some time during the kindergarten year so that preventive work may begin as early as possible.
How accurate are currently available early identification procedures?
As stated earlier, the primary purpose of this article is to make some practical suggestions about procedures and tests that can be used to identify children for preventive reading or prereading instruction. From the outset, however, it is important to recognize that our ability to predict which children will have the most serious reading difficulties is still far from perfect. For example, in a recent comprehensive review of early identification research (1998), Scarborough pointed out that all studies continue to report substantial levels of two kinds of prediction errors.
False positive errors are made when children who will eventually become good readers score below the cut-off score on the predictive instrument and are falsely identified as "at risk." In general, the proportion of this type of error has ranged between 20 percent and 60 percent, with an average of around 45 percent. That is, almost half of the children identified during kindergarten as "at risk" turn out not to have serious reading problems by the end of first grade. False negative errors occur when children who later exhibit reading problems are identified as not being at risk. Typical percentages of false negative errors range from 10 percent to 50 percent, with an average of around 22 percent. That is, on average, current procedures failed to identify about 22 percent of children who eventually end up with serious reading difficulties.
In any given study, the relative proportion of false positive and false negative errors is somewhat arbitrary, since it depends on the level of the cut-off score. For example, we reported a significant reduction in the percentage of false negative errors within the same sample of children by doubling the number of children we identified as at risk (Torgesen, in press; Torgesen & Burgess, 1998). Our goal was to identify, during the first semester of kindergarten, the children most at risk to be in the bottom 10 percent in word reading ability by the beginning of second grade. When we selected the 10 percent of children who scored lowest on our predictive tests, our false negative rate was 42 percent (we missed almost half the children who became extremely poor readers). However, when we identified the 20 percent of children who scored lowest on our measures, the false negative rate was reduced to 8 percent. As a practical matter, if schools desire to maximize their chances for early intervention with the most impaired children, they should provide this intervention to as many children as possible.This is less of a waste of resources than it might seem at first glance, because, although many of the falsely identified children receiving intervention may not be among the most seriously disabled readers, most of them are likely to be below-average readers (Torgesen & Burgess, 1998).
Two other pieces of information are relevant to the selection of procedures for early identification of children at risk for reading difficulties. First, prediction accuracy increases significantly the longer a child has been in school. Prediction of reading disabilities from tests given at the beginning of first grade is significantly more accurate than from tests administered during the first semester of kindergarten (Scarborough, 1998; Torgesen, Burgess, & Rashotte, 1996). Given the widely varying range of children's preschool learning opportunities, many children may score low on early identification instruments in the first semester of kindergarten simply because they have not had the opportunity to learn the skills. However, if prereading skills are actively taught in kindergarten, some of these differences may be reduced by the beginning of the second semester of school. Thus, I would recommend that the screening procedures described here not be administered until the beginning of the second semester of kindergarten, at which time they will be much more efficient in identifying children who will require more intensive preventive instruction in phonemic awareness and other early reading skills.
Second, although batteries containing multiple tests generally provide better prediction than single instruments, the increase in efficiency of multi-test batteries is generally not large enough to warrant the extra time and resources required to administer them (Scarborough, 1998). Thus, I recommend an identification procedure involving administration of two tests: 1) a test of knowledge of letter names or sounds; and 2) a measure of phonemic awareness. Measures of letter knowledge continue to be the best single predictor of reading difficulties, and measures of phonemic awareness contribute additional predictive accuracy. In our experience, tests of letter name knowledge are most predictive for kindergarten children, and tests of letter-sound knowledge are most predictive for first graders. Since reading growth is influenced by noncognitive factors such as attention/motivation and home background (Torgesen, et al., 1998), as well as specific knowledge and skills, scores from these objective tests might profitably be supplemented with teacher ratings of behavior and attention to identify children most at risk for subsequent difficulties in learning to read.
How should phonemic awareness be assessed?
Since researchers first began to study phonological awareness in the early 1970s, more than twenty different tasks have been used to measure awareness of phonemes in words. These measures can be grouped into three broad categories: sound comparison, phoneme segmentation, and phoneme blending.
Sound comparison tasks use a number of different formats that all require children to make comparisons between the sounds in different words. For example, a child might be asked to indicate which word (of several) begins or ends with the same sound as a target word (i.e., "Which word begins with the same first sound as cat: boy, cake, or fan?"). Additionally, tasks that require children to generate words that have the same first or last sound as a target word would fall in this category. Sound comparison tasks are among the least difficult measures of phonemic awareness, and thus are particularly appropriate for kindergarten age children.
Phoneme segmentation tasks involve counting, pronouncing, deleting, adding, or reversing the individual phonemes in words. Common examples of this type of task require pronouncing the individual phonemes in words ("Say the sounds in cat one at a time.'), deleting sounds from words ("Say card without saying the /d/ sound."), or counting sounds ("Put one marker on the line for each sound you hear in the wordfast. ")
Phoneme blending skill has only been measured by one kind of task. This is the sound-blending task in which the tester pronounces a series of phonemes in isolation and asks the child to blend them together to form a word (i.e., "What word do these sounds make, /f/ - /a/ - /t/?"). Easier variants of the sound-blending task can be produced by allowing the child to choose from two or three pictures the word that is represented by a series of phonemes.
In general, these different kinds of phonemic awareness tasks all appear to be measuring essentially the same construct, or ability. Although some research (Yopp, 1988) has indicated that the tasks may involve different levels of intellectual complexity, and there may be some differences between segmentation and blending tasks at certain ages (Wagner, Torgesen, & Rashotte, 1994), for the most part, they all seem to be measuring growth in the same general ability (Holen, et al., 1995; Stanovich, Cunningham, & Cramer, 1984). Sound comparison measures are easiest and are sensitive to emergent levels of phonological awareness, while segmentation and blending measures are sensitive to differences among children during later stages of development involving refinements in explicit levels of awareness. Measures of sensitivity to rhyme ("Which word rhymes with cat - leg or mat?") are not included as measures of phonemic awareness because they appear to be measuring something a little different, and less predictive of reading disabilities, from those measure that ask children to attend to individual phonemes. For the same reason, measures of syllable awareness are not included in this group.
Measures of phonemic awareness that are suited for early identification purposes include the following three widely used tests:
The Phonological Awareness Test (Robertson & Salter, 1995). This test contains five different measures of phonemic awareness, plus a measure of sensitivity to rhyme. The five measures of phonemic awareness are segmentation of phonemes, phoneme isolation, phoneme deletion, phoneme substitution, and phoneme blending. The phoneme isolation test, which requires children to pronounce the first, last, or middle sounds in words, would appear to have the most appropriate level of difficulty for kindergarten screening (the test should be easy enough so that only the most delayed children will do poorly on it), and any of the others could be used for first- or second-grade assessments. The Phonological Awareness Test is nationally normed on children from age five through nine, and it can be ordered from LinguiSystems, 3100 4th Avenue, East Moline, IL 61244-0747. Phone: 800-776-4332. The cost of a test manual, test supplies, and fifteen test booklets is $69.
The Test of Phonological Awareness (Torgesen & Bryant, 1994).This test was designed as a group-administered test of phonemic awareness for kindergarten and first-grade children. It was specifically constructed to be most sensitive to children with weaknesses in development in this area, which helps make it appropriate for identifying at-risk children. The kindergarten version of the test requires children to notice which words (represented by pictures) begin with the same first sound, while the first-grade version asks them to compare words on the basis of their last sounds. It can be easily administered to groups of five to ten children at a time. The Test of Phonological Awareness is nationally normed, and it can be ordered from PRO-ED Publishing Company, 8700 Shoal Creek Blvd., Austin, TX 78757-6897. Phone: (512) 451-3246. The cost of a test manual and a supply of fifty test forms (twenty-five kindergarten version, twenty-five elementary school version) is $124.
The Yopp-Singer Test of Phoneme Segmentation (Yopp, 1995) is a brief test of children's ability to isolate and pronounce the individual phonemes in words. This is a task that has been widely used in research on phoneme awareness over the past twenty years, and it is highly correlated with other measures of phoneme awareness. The test was designed for children in kindergarten, but it should also be appropriate for identifying children who are weak in phonemic awareness during first grade. The test has twenty-two items that are all of the same type and that ask the child to pronounce each of the phonemes in words that vary from two to three phonemes in length. The test does not have norms with it, but it is available free in volume 49 (1995) of the widely read journal The Reading Teacher, pp. 20-29.
The measurement of letter knowledge
In all of our research, we have measured letter knowledge in two ways. We measure letter name knowledge by presenting each letter in simple upper- case type on a single card and asking for its name. The score on this test is simply the number of letters for which the child can give the appropriate name. We measure letter-sound knowledge by presenting all letters in lower-case type and asking for the "sound the letter makes in words' " If a consonant letter can commonly represent two different sounds (i.e., c, g) we probe for the second sound, and we also ask for the long and short pronunciation of each vowel.The score is the total number of sounds the child can give. We have found that letter-name knowledge is a more sensitive predictor for kindergarten children, while letter- sound knowledge is a better predictor for children in first grade. Two tests that provide nationally standardized norms for performance on letter-name and letter- sound knowledge are:
The letter identification subtest of the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test-Revised (Woodcock, 1987). This test does not measure simple letter-name knowledge in the way we assess it, because it presents letters in several different fonts, some of which may be unfamiliar to children. It also allows children to give either the name or the sound the letter makes in words. However, children who perform poorly in kindergarten (do not know the names of very many letters) will not reach the more difficult items, so that their score should be quite comparable to a more straightforward test of letter-name knowledge. The Reading Mastery Test-Revised is available from American Guidance Service, 4201 Woodland Road, Circle Pines, MN 550141796. Phone (800) 328-2560. The cost for the manual and forms is $314.95.
The graphemes subtest of the Phonological Awareness Test (Robertson & Salter, 1995). This test provides a comprehensive assessment of letter-sound knowledge extending from single consonants (i.e., b,c,k,m) through vowel digraphs and diphthongs (i.e., ea, ai, ow, oy). As mentioned before, it is standardized on children from aged five through nine.
Is it necessary for a test to be nationally standardized for it to be useful in early identification?
This issue is important because of the potential expense of employing standardized measures in large-scale screening efforts. Nationally based norms are not required to identify which children within a given classroom or school are weakest in phonemic awareness and letter knowledge. However, the proportion of children who come to school with weak skills and knowledge in these areas will depend somewhat on specific aspects of their preschool language and literacy environment and will almost certainly vary from school to school across different communities. Tests with national norms can help to pinpoint classes or schools in which a special effort must be made to enhance phonological awareness in children prior to, or during, reading instruction. For example, a classroom in which 75 percent of the children performed below the 20th percentile (in the bottom 20 percent of all children), will require more instructional resources to prepare children for learning to read than a classroom in which only 10 percent of the children scored that low. Without norms, it is possible to identify weak children within a given class or school, but it is not possible to determine what proportion of children in the entire school may require intervention because of relatively weak prereading; skills and knowledge. On the one hand, if classroom resources allow extra help for only a fixed number of children (say, 20 percent to 30 percent), then measures without national norms can be used to identify the group of children within the classroom most in need of intervention. On the other hand, if the goal is to determine the amount of resources that may be needed to help all children with relatively weak skills in these areas, then normative measures will be required.
The combination of letter knowledge and phonemic awareness tests I have recommended should take no more than ten to fifteen minutes per child to administer.The tests do not require highly trained personnel to administer them, although anyone who tests young children must be very familiar with the tests and be able to establish a supportive rapport.
Monitoring growth in early reading skills
Once reading instruction begins, the best predictor of future reading growth is current reading achievement, and the most critical indicators of good progress in learning to read during the early elementary period are measures of word reading skill. Children who end up as poor readers at the end of elementary school are almost invariably those who fail to make normal progress in these skills during the first years of elementary school. These children are most frequently impaired in both the ability to apply phonetic strategies in reading new words and in the ability to retrieve sight words from memory. They not only have difficulty becoming accurate in the application of these processes but also they frequently have special difficulties with becoming fluent in their application. Before discussing specific methods for the diagnostic assessment of these word reading skills, one general issue regarding reading assessment requires discussion.
First, the assessment that will be recommended here is very different from the "authentic literacy assessment" that is currently advocated by many reading professionals (Paris, et al., 1992). Authentic assessment is different in at least two ways from the reading assessment measures we will be discussing. First, the goal of "authentic assessment" is to measure children's application of broad literacy skills to authentic tasks, like gathering information for a report, use of literacy as a medium for social interactions, or ability to read a selection and then write a response to it. It also seeks to measure children's enjoyment, ownership, and involvement in literacy activities both at school and at home.
This kind of assessment is a clear complement to the type of assessments we will describe for monitoring growth in word level reading skills. All of the literacy outcomes that are part of authentic assessment are important parts of a total literacy assessment program. After all, if a child can read, but does not enjoy reading and does not apply important literacy skills to everyday tasks, then some important goals of literacy instruction have not been attained.
However, since these procedures are focused on high-level reading outcomes, they cannot provide precise information about level of performance on important subskills in reading. If a child's overall performance on authentic literacy tasks is limited, it is frequently difficult to obtain a precise estimate of the specific component skills that are weak. The goal of the kind of assessments we will discuss here is to quantify the degree of skill a child possesses in word identification processes that have been shown to be a critical foundation for overall reading success.
Commonly used diagnostic measures of word reading ability.
It is beyond the scope of this article to identify all the available tests of word level reading skills. Rather, I will provide examples of measurement strategies from the most commonly used measures.
Sight word reading ability. Two measures are widely used in this area, and both involve the same assessment strategy. The Word Identification subtest from the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test-Revised (Woodcock, 1987), and the reading subtest of the Wide Range Achievement Test-3 (Wilkinson, 1995) both require children to read lists of words that gradually increase in length and complexity while decreasing in frequency of occurrence in printed English. For example, the easiest three words on the Word Identification subtest are go, the, and me, words of mid-level difficulty are pioneer, inquire, and wealth, and the hardest three are epigraphist, facetious, and shillelagh.
Neither of these widely used tests place stringent time pressure on students, so both phonetic decoding processes and sight word processes can be used to identify words on these lists. Both tests have been normed nationally, and one of their strengths is that they allow a direct assessment of children's ability to identify words solely on the basis of the word's spelling. When reading text, children also have context clues available to assist word identification, and thus text-based measures, although they may be more "authentic" in one sense, are less direct in their assessment of the kinds of word-processing skills that are particularly deficient in children with reading problems.
Phonetic reading ability. The single best measure of children's ability to apply knowledge of letter-sound correspondences in decoding words is provided by measures of nonword reading (Share & Stanovich, 1995). The Word Attack subtest of the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test-Revised (Woodcock, 1987) is a good example of this kind of diagnostic test. It consists of a series of increasingly complex nonwords that children are asked to "sound out as best they can." The three easiest items on the test are ree, ip, and din; items of moderate difficulty are rejune, depine, and viv, and the three hardest items are pnir ceisminadolt, and byrcal. Because the words are presented out of context, they stress the child's ability to fully analyze each word to produce the correct pronunciation. On the other hand, measures such as this do not allow an assessment of children's ability to combine phonetic decoding with use of context to arrive at a word's correct pronunciation. However, since both good and poor readers appear able to use context equally well (as long as the context is understood, Share & Stanovich, 1995), this is not an important omission on a diagnostic measure of word reading ability.
Word reading fluency. Word reading fluency measures have typically measured rate of reading connected text. One of the more widely used measures in this area is the Gray Oral Reading Test-3rd Edition. (Wiederholt & Bryant, 1992).This test consists of thirteen increasingly difficult passages, each followed by five comprehension questions.A measure of oral reading rate is obtained by recording the time it takes for the child to read each passage. One potential problem with the Gray Oral Reading Test is that it does not provide a very sensitive measure of individual differences in word reading ability at very low levels of performance, such as those found in beginning first graders, or disabled readers through second grade. The passages simply begin at too high a level for children with very poor or undeveloped reading skills to display the word reading skills they actually possess.
In an effort to provide measures of fluency and accuracy in word reading skills that are simple to administer and sensitive to individual differences across a broad range of reading skills, we are currently developing simple measures of Word Reading Efficiency and Non Word Efficiency (Torgesen & Wagner, 1997). In both of these measures, children are shown lists of increasingly difficult words and nonwords and asked to read as many words as possible in forty-five seconds. There are two forms to each test, and the child's score is simply the average number of words read in forty-five seconds. Initial evaluations indicate that these measures are very reliable (parallel form reliabilities vary between .97 and .98 for kindergarten through fifth grade).They are also highly correlated with corresponding measures from the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test-Revised at early grades (when children often run out of words they can read before they run out of time, correlations range from .89 to .94) and slightly less correlated (.86 to .88) at fourth grade, when fluency of word reading processes becomes more important to performance on the tests.These tests have been standardized nationally and will be available from PRO-ED publishing company in late summer 1998. If a single form of each test is administered, it will provide indices of growth in phonetic decoding and sight word reading that can be administered several times during the year and that take a very short amount of time to give.
To summarize, adequate monitoring of the growth of children's word reading abilities should include out-of-context measures of word reading ability, phonetic decoding ability (as measured by ability to read nonwords), and word reading fluency. The fluency measures become more important after about second to third grade, when children have acquired a fund of word reading skills they can apply with reasonable accuracy. Measures that involve out-of-context word reading more directly assess the kinds of word reading skills that are particularly problematic for children with reading disabilities because they eliminate the contextual support on which these children rely heavily. To obtain a complete picture of overall reading development, however, it is also important to observe the way that the child integrates all sources of information about words in text, and this can only be estimated by carefully observing children as they read connected passages.
About the Author: Joseph K Torgesen is currently a Distinguished Research Professor of psychology and education at Florida State University. For the last ten years, he has been part of the research effort sponsored by the National Institutes of Health to identify the nature, causes, and best approaches to instruction for children with moderate to severe reading problems. The research conducted at Florida State University that is cited in this article was supported by grants numbered HD23340 and HD30988 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and by grants from the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the Donald D. Hammill Foundation.
The FCCPTA believes Fairfax County Public Schools should have a reading program with the following components.
The reading curriculum will be organized, sequential, flexible, and active; and, will engage students in vocabulary rich and interesting literature.
Focus should be placed in the primary grades on teaching:
phonemic awareness (the ability to pick out the sound chunks which make up (words) basic phonics (letter-sound correspondences) word attack skills reading fluency reading comprehension
II. Student Evaluations
The teaching staff will evaluate each student’s progress by listening to the student read aloud at regular intervals. Teachers will determine which components of reading to target for each student and which teaching techniques would be most effective for each student’s level of proficiency.
III. Teacher Training
All primary teachers, who have not developed the teaching techniques necessary to appropriately implement this reading program will participate in levels of staff development. Administrators should apply techniques used within the private sector for large-scale personnel training to accomplish this training most efficiently and effectively.
Budgetary priorities should be given to assure that quality and on-going staff development occurs in reading; and, classroom monitoring and assistance take place.
Fairfax County Council of PTA’s Position:
Virginia should (1) require two or more full time staff members trained in Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and the Heimlich Maneuver to be present in all public schools and (2) fully fund the local training needed to qualify public school personnel in CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver.
Twenty-five percent of victims of choking are children and ninety percent of choking victims appear to be eating when choking occurs. Food items account for seventy percent of foreign bodies removed by bronchoscopy from children’s airways.
Unless the brain gets oxygen within minutes, brain damage or death will occur. Children require oxygen within 2-4 minutes, infants within 1-3 minutes. In contrast, adults may survive up to 4-6 minutes without oxygen. In no case is there enough time to wait for public emergency services or rescue squads. This is one instance in which the public health need exceeds the ability of the locality to respond with traditional services.
The Fairfax County Council of PTA’s, the Virginia PTA, and community groups seek to protect all children. Schools need to be ready to handle life threatening chocking incidents. The cafeteria is one place where such emergency response may be needed; public schools should ensure that this site has trained personnel available at all times.
However, schools currently have neither the funding nor a legal mandate to have CPR trained personnel on site.
The General Assembly should:
(1) Require that enough public school personnel qualify in CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver to assure that there are two trained personnel on duty in or near cafeterias at all serving times.
(2) Fund the training needed to provide this life saving qualification in all public schools.
Fairfax County Public Schools Facilities Crisis
Enrollment Increases and Educational Program Changes Affect Facility Utilization
FCPS will have approximately 152,000 students in the fall of 1998 — the largest school system in the state (14 percent of VA students are in FCPS). The number of FCPS students in trailers alone would rank as the ninth or tenth largest district in the state. We have added between 1,500 and 2,000 students per year for the last eight years —the equivalent of a large high school each year. (High Schools cost between $55 and 65 million dollars.)
Educational program changes have facility utilization implications. Reducing teacher/student ratios requires more classrooms, and adding a full day kindergarten program would require additional space. Federal and state mandates for certain types of programming have similar implications on space.
Funding Sources Limit Options
FCPS’ facilities budget is controlled by Fairfax County’s overall income and debt management program. County borrowing is capped at 10% of current County (not including school budget) operating budget. Current actual borrowing is closer to 9% than 10%.
The current Fairfax County contribution to FCPS facilities is $100 million, up from $75 and $80 million earlier in the decade (1994 through 1997). However, FCPS facilities needs are actually $110 million per year. This is funding approved by the public in the 1995 and 1997 bond packages. The projected facilities spending shortfall for the next ten years is approximately $300 to 400 million. County revenues are relatively stagnant due to lower than expected increases in the value of real estate in the county. Property tax rate will change only after the 1999 election.
State spending on schools for construction, for the first time in fifty years, is $110 million per year for the entire state. This is equivalent to what FCPS spending needs are for one year. With 14 percent of state public school enrollment, FCPS gets 4 percent of all state construction funding.
FCCPTA POLICY STATEMENT ON FACILITIES
At the state level, FCCPTA
1. Seeks reconfiguration of the funding formula for the construction money and seeks an increase in the overall amount of funding.
2. Seeks support for diversification of taxes for school construction away from reals estate values.
3. Seeks establishment of a state lending authority to offer local divisions below market funding for school construction using major contributions from private sources such as the state tourist industry.
At the county level, FCCPTA
1. Seeks an increase in the debt service ratio from 9.36 percent currently to 12 percent, as suggested in the last FCCPTA budget document.
2. Seeks additional revenue sources dedicated to school construction.
3. Seeks establishment a trust fund for school construction to be created by private donations from real estate developers, construction industry, and other businesses to develop a long-term county plan for financing of school construction.
4. Seeks very clear linkages between continued development and new school construction. Zoning applications should carry detailed "education impact statements."
5. Seeks allocation of county budget surpluses between county programs and school division in the same proportion as fiscal year funding ratios.
At the FCPS level, FCCPTA
Seeks establishment of a "Fairfax Facilities 21st Century Task Force" to be made up of Fairfax County citizens and parents, and to include experts in the area of finance, construction, building design, education and instruction, to develop a new strategic facilities plan including alternative strategies for FCPS with a report due in December 1999.
On February 6, 2005, the Fairfax County Council of PTAs issued the following position paper regarding later start times for Secondary Schools.
Based on the following facts:
The Fairfax County Council of Parent Teacher Associations (FCCPTA) recognizes that there is compelling information that shows the many benefits to the health and well-being and academic performance of Fairfax County adolescents of changing high school and middle school start times to later in the morning.
The FCCPTA recognizes that a change in start time is bound to impact the budget, transportation, student safety, sports and other extra-curricular activities, academy classes, and other special programs for students.
We urge the Fairfax County School Board and School Superintendent to hire a transportation consultant to study this issue and we support any efforts to implement creative strategies that would facilitate a later start time for secondary students.
PTA Survey Shows Overwhelming Parent Support For
Later High School Start Times in Fairfax County
More than 88 percent of parents of children at all grade levels believe that Fairfax County’s 7:20 am high school start time is too early for teens, and a similarly large majority supports a proposal to start high schools around 8:45 am, according to a new survey by the Fairfax County Council of PTAs (FCCPTA).
The survey, conducted from May 30 to July 7 drew responses from 6,040 elementary, middle school and high school parents from almost all schools throughout the county and representing more than 11,000 students.
A Fairfax County Public Schools Transportation Task Force (TTF) in March recommended starting high schools and secondary schools between 8:35 and 8:55 am, rather than 7:20 am. The proposal also included shifting more elementary schools earlier, putting most between 7:50 and 8:55 am. Currently, Fairfax elementary schools start anywhere from 7:50 am to 9:25 am, but more are on the later end of that range. Middle schools, which now generally start between 7:20 am and 8 am, would be shifted to 9:20-9:40 am under the plan. A range of start times is necessary to make efficient use of buses.
Asked specifically about the Task Force recommendations on school start times, 85 percent preferred the recommended schedule to the current one. That included 61 percent who liked the proposal as recommended and 24 percent who said it was better than the current schedule but could still use improvement. Only 15 percent said the current schedule was preferable.
The strong majority of support held true for parents with children at all school levels, among all races and ethnic groups and at all income levels.
On middle school start times, 81% said the current start times are too early. “Parents overwhelmingly agree that teens need to go to school later and that younger children would be better off getting started somewhat earlier,” said FCCPTA President Michele Menapace. “This change is crucial to both student health and learning.”
Perhaps because of the wide range in current Fairfax County elementary school start times (7:50 am to 9:25 am), opinion was more varied about elementary school schedules. While 59% said that putting more schools between 7:50 and 8:55 would have a positive impact on elementary students, another 34% said the impact would be neither good nor bad, and 7% thought it would have a negative impact.
When elementary school parents were asked if they would prefer an 8 am start time or a 9:30 am start time for their youngsters (both within the range of the TTF proposal), 59% preferred 8 am and 33% preferred 9:30 am.
The wide-ranging survey also had these findings:
A full report and analysis of the FCCPTA survey was prepared by George Mason University professors Dr. Adam Winsler and Dr. Henry Tran and student Drew Solyst. The report is on the FCCPTA website at www.fccpta.org. A summary and complete catalog of comments will be available soon. The FCCPTA and the Virginia state PTA support later high school start times. In May the FCCPTA general membership also endorsed the recommendations of the Transportation Task Force. For more information, go to the FCCPTA website at www.fccpta.org.
The Transportation Task Force, chartered by the Fairfax County School Board in 2007, consisted of 67 parents, teachers, students, administrators and community organization members. The Fairfax County Public School staff has been working on school-by-school bell schedules that try to accommodate the Task Force’s recommendations to take to the public for review.
During the early summer of 2008, the Fairfax County Council of PTAs (FCCPTA) conducted a wide-reaching survey throughout the county to assess the views of residents on the issue of school start times. One particular goal was to get feedback from the community about recent recommendations from the school board’s task force regarding school start times. The survey was distributed in both website and hardcopy format (in both English and Spanish), and together with principals, school staff, and the FCCPTA, notifications were distributed through various media for people to complete the survey. A total of 6,040 respondents completed the survey (one per family), representing a diverse set of 11,109 students attending 196 different elementary, middle, and high schools throughout all parts of Fairfax County Virginia.
The results described in the report give clear evidence that the majority of parents believe that the current start time for FCPS middle and high schools is too early and most report that their high school- and middle school-age students have difficulty getting up on school days. Sleep schedules on weekends compared to weekdays suggest that adolescents in Fairfax County are indeed sleep deprived and having to wake up during hours that research states they should be sleeping. Parents report liking the later school schedule proposed by the School Board’s Transportation Task Force better than the current school schedule. This was true for parents of high school students, middle school students, and elementary school students. The small number of parents who have student who work or provide childcare reported that it would be easy to make changes to child care accommodations and student work schedules to accommodate a later middle or high school schedule and that they would be in favor of doing so. School start time preference did vary slightly by family income level and ethnicity but it still remained the case that a large majority of parents, regardless of income level or ethnic group, reported that the current school start times for high school and middle school are too early.
From late May through early July 2008, the FCCPTA conducted an online survey of Fairfax County parents. The purpose of this survey was to get input from a broad cross-section of parents on school start times and related issues. We heard from over 6,000 parents representing more than 11,000 students at 196 schools of all levels: elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, secondary schools, and centers or other special schools. These families also include a variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds and income levels.
The heart of our survey was parents’ feedback on current school schedules versus the proposed schedule endorsed by the Transportation Task Force (TTF). This schedule has middle and high school start times an hour or more later than they are now, with elementary schools spanning a broad range of start times. We found that an overwhelming majority – over 80% -- feel that the current middle and high school start times are too early, and an even larger majority – 85% -- favor the TTF proposal over the current schedule.
The survey also provided an opportunity for parents to make comments, in their own words, about school start times. Some of the thoughts expressed by the large majority who feel that start times should be later include:
The early schedule causes family stress and logistical problems:
Sleep deficits are causing problems for children’s physical health, mental health, safe driving, and academic performance:
A later schedule can still accommodate sports and extracurricular activities:
A later schedule would mean less unsupervised time after school:
The experiences of other school districts show that later start times work:
Holding the Virginia State Board of Education Accountable
The one thing we all share in common is that we have gone to school and had the experience of taking tests, and receiving scores such as 45 of 50, 82% or 1200. Therefore, when the Virginia Board of Education reports cut scores "proficiency" and "advanced," this method of reporting a student’s academic achievement level doesn’t conflict with our own personal experiences.
However, each one of us must stop for a moment and consider our goals for our children and the quality of education we expect them to receive. In doing so, we must also think about our beliefs and theories about schooling that reflect our experiences with teachers, schools, and administrators; and, recall the grades, percentages and points we achieved on tests and in courses. We then must determine if we remember if those scores accurately or specifically addressed what we did and did not know – or, did they assess just what we memorized for the test? Did the scores appropriately reflect what we could or could not do; or, if we were receiving an excellent education; or, if we really understood, remembered, or could use the information or concept over time; or, if the test questions were understandable or relative to what we had learned?
In a more recent context, we could consider if our current employment has specific standards, by which we are measured on a yearly basis. For example, does someone determine your performance assessment outside your office or employment? Could taking a multiple-choice assessment indisputably and appropriately assess the quality of your work or expertise? How would you feel if the performance questions were poorly stated, didn’t appropriately measure your skills or the quality of your work; and yet, the security of your employment potentially rests on this type of assessment? What if you were interested in improving your work performance, would it be useful to quickly memorize lots of facts and concepts and then have your abilities (your strengths and weaknesses) stated in a final report by combining and reporting the results in: percentages, grades or points?
If you are wondering how all of these questions are related to the title " Holding the School Board Accountable," the answer is, we chose this format of questioning to assist you in questioning how you view assessments; and, more importantly, to bring your attention to some crave concerns that are shared by members of the FCCPTA Education Committee – which may be of interest to you.
In providing this information, we are also requesting your assistance in holding our State Board of Education accountable for appropriately contributing to education reforms across the Commonwealth. In doing so, we believe we can achieve our goal of assisting each one of our children in receiving an excellent, high quality, meaningful education.
SOLs assessments were given last spring, two-thirds of the way through the academic year, to students in grades third, fifth, eighth, and high school. THESE TESTS, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE WRITING TEST, FOLLOWED THE MULTIPLE-CHOICE FORMAT. Passing six (6) tests will be required to receive course credits and is a graduation requirement, starting in 2004. As an added incentive, some school divisions may elect to assign the score, achieved on a SOL assessment, as a final grade. Out of school, remedial programs which target the specific needs of students, related to the SOL, are now required, and the state, school division and the student’s parents will share the costs. Schools that don’t meet the 70 percent mark will lose their accreditation by 2006-07.
On Saturday, January 8th, 1999, the Virginia Board of Education reported that 97 percent of Schools in Virginia failed the new exams.
FCCPTA’s Positions and What We Would Want The Public to Know
History of Standard Setting Committees
According to the Report to the Virginia Board of Education, "In June of 1998, the Virginia board of Education appointed a Standard Setting Advisory Committee (SSAC). The SSAC was charged with the "authority to review all the procedures and operations of the eight committees in the course of the standard setting recommendations. The SSAC was composed of 32 members, representing many of the constituencies interested in public education. William C. Bosher, Jr., Superintendent of Schools in Chesterfield County, chaired this oversight committee.
The Board of Education’s standard setting process was designed to bring together a diverse group of Virginia educators in eight committees to provide guidance to the state Board in setting performance scores for the State Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. These SOL tests were first administered to Virginia students in the spring of 1998. The Board of Education appointed professional educators to eight Standard Setting Committees; parents and the business community were also represented. Members of the eight committees, individually and using accepted procedures, focused clearly on what students should know and be able to demonstrate against the SOLs, rather than upon what students may know at this time or on average. They then provided their input regarding the scores that would be required for student to pass the SOL tests and demonstrate advanced attainment of the SOLS.
However, it is important to note, the State board of Education operates autonomously and has sole responsibility for setting the scores whereby students will demonstrate passing and advanced achievement on the Standards of Learning Tests. Members on the eight Standard Setting Committees (SSC) provided the state Board of Education with their input on these performance scores, using approved procedures. Guidance to the state Board was therefore a range of scores, representing these individual judges, for any particular SOL test.
Summary of SSAC Findings and Conclusions - as presented on October 8th
1.) Geographic distribution, 2.) ethnic and racial balance, 3.) knowledge of the content being assessed, 4.) teaching experience, 5.) experience with students with disabilities, and 6.) experience with students with limited proficiency in English. (The SSAC commended the Department of Education and the local school divisions for the strong nomination pool available.)
4. It is the consensus of the SSAC that the procedures (modified-Angoff and Bookmark) were followed by the eight committees as prescribed.
Observations, Issues, and Central Concerns Surrounding SOL Testing
1. Most of the eight Standard Setting Committees (SSC) highlighted the following in their reports to the State Board of Education, "When setting performance scores for Virginia’s students, the BOE should focus more closely on those scores falling in the middle of the range (median) than those further out."
the final cut scores defining "proficiency" and "advanced." In fact, of the highest scores recommended by individual members within each of the eight Standard Setting Committees, only 9% of those scores were in fact mirrored by the scores chosen by the State Board of Education for assigning cut scores for passing or "proficiency."
2. According to Esmeralda Barnes’ November 3rd article in the Fairfax Journal, Charles Finley said, "These tests are not your typical classroom tests. The level of difficulty is much higher than a teacher-made test, so you can’t look at them in the same way you would look at tests given at a school."
3. From Washington Post reporter Victoria Benning, we now have learned, "More than half of Virginia’s public high school students flunked in at least one basic subject on new state exams given in the spring and would have fallen short of the requirement of a diploma if penalties had been in effect."
4. From this same article, the following statement was made, "The figures confirmed what state and local educators had suspected when the state Board of Education set passing scores last week on each of the 27 Standards of Learning exams."
5. A recent letter to Division Superintendents from Paul D. Stapleton, Superintendent of Public Instruction stated. "Please remember that there were two forms of each SOL test administered in the spring of 1998. The Board of Education established the passing scores on the predominant form (standard setting form). The Department of Education will now engage in equating the second form to the Board’s established passing standard. Since different test forms may be slightly easier or slightly harder than the standard setting form it is possible that the passing score on the second form of the test will vary slightly from that of the standard setting form.
As you may have determined, there are many issues yet to be considered or resolved by the Board of Education. If we are to achieve our goal, of giving our children a first class education; then, each one of us must recognize the issues and communicate to members of the Board of Education. The Board of Education must be held publicly accountable. Write letters to be published in our local newspapers. Write to Governor Gilmore, your legislative representative, and members of the Board of Education and let them know how you feel. Encourage the Board to establish public trust, by taking time and creating an education and accountability system worthy of the Fairfax Public schools’ proud past and promising future.