Oakton High School is among the 101 high-performing schools across the state that could earn waivers from Virginia's annual accreditation process, allowing educators to focus less on the test and more on innovating in the classroom, local and state officials said this week.
Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said eligible schools have achieved pass rates of 95 percent or higher in four Standards of Learning (SOL) content areas — English, math, science and history — for the past two years.
The three-year waivers would allow the schools to stay fully accredited through the 2014-2015.
The high marks have earned schools "an opportunity to set aside concerns about annual accreditation for three years and lead the way in developing innovative instructional strategies and lesson plans that immerse students in the content of Virginia’s rigorous new standards in mathematics, English, science and history and prepare them for success on the corresponding assessments," she said in a statement Tuesday.
Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman John Torre said Superintendent Jack Dale will apply for the waivers for all 37 of the county's eligible schools.
Of the 37 qualified schools, Oakton students attend Flint Hill Elementary, Navy Elementary, Mosby Woods Elementary, Hunters Woods Elementary for the Arts and Sciences, Thoreau Middle, Rachel Carson Middle, Madison High and Oakton High.
Thomas Jefferson High for Science and Technology is also eligible.
Though several schools in the system were eligible for waivers last year, the system did not pursue them, Torre said, because Dale felt schools achieving such a high pass rate did not need them.
After the state implemented more rigorous SOL math tests this year — and will move forward with higher English and science standards in 2012-2013 — Dale said he thinks the waivers are now worth pursuing, "though it’s unlikely that any of the schools eligible for a waiver will be in danger of not meeting the accreditation benchmarks in the future."
Currently, high schools and middle schools are fully accredited with the state if students achieve pass rates of 70 percent or higher in all four content areas.
Elementary schools must achieve a combined pass rate of at least 75 percent on English tests in grades 3 through 5; at least 70 percent in mathematics and in grade 5 science and history; and at least 50 percent in grade 3 science and history.
High schools must also score 85 or greater based on the Graduation and Completion Index (GCI).
"Hopefully, the waiver will be used to allow our brilliant and deserving teachers the opportunity to enrich and accelerate their students through creative and individualized instruction," said Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers. "If teachers are given the professional autonomy to do so at their professional discretion, the students will further flourish."
The waivers are only for state accreditation; Virginia continues to petition the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver from the adequate yearly progress (AYP) benchmarks set by No Child Left Behind Act.
It submitted its second attempt earlier this month and is awaiting a response, VDOE Spokesman Charles Pyle said.
Maryland, which received a NCLB waivers in May, is among the 19 states who have earned waivers from the act's strict requirements — including preparing all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014 — and the consequences of failing to meet them.
About half of all schools in the county did not meet testing goals laid out by the NCLB last year, though more than 90 percent of their students passed the state's SOL tests.
“Accountability is not advanced by arbitrary rules and benchmarks that misidentify schools,” Wright said at the time.
For a full list of schools eligible for a waiver, click here.