Fairfax County Public Schools announced Monday that all 194 schools in the system have been accredited by the state for the 2019-2020 school year, although three schools — including Mount Vernon High School and Fort Belvoir Primary School — had conditions attached to their accreditation.
Mount Vernon, along with Justice High School in Falls Church, were accredited with conditions due to their dropout rates. Mount Vernon had 11.8 percent of the class of 2019 dropout before graduation, while Justice’s dropout rate for the class of 2019 was 11.49 percent.
However, neither Mount Vernon nor Justice had the highest dropout rate among FCPS secondary schools last year. Herndon High School (15.08 percent), Falls Church High School (12.82 percent), and Annandale High School (12.54 percent) all had higher dropout rates than Mount Vernon and Justice. Those schools were not cited by the state because each had been granted a waiver by the Virginia Department of Education for previously reaching accreditation benchmarks that Mount Vernon and Justice had not, according to Lucy Caldwell, a spokeswoman for FCPS.
Fort Belvoir Primary, which is a K-3 elementary school that serves students who live on base, was the only elementary school in the county accredited with conditions. It marks the second year in a row that the school has been accredited with conditions.
Only third graders at Fort Belvoir Primary take state tests, and their English scores dipped by nine points in 2018-2019. On the flip side, Fort Belvoir Primary’s math scores increased by more 22 points.
In a press release, FCPS Superintendent Scott Braband said he was pleased with the school system’s overall results, and said that efforts were already underway to address the issues at Mount Vernon, Justice and Fort Belvoir Primary.
“We have provided side-by-side coaching and staffing supports at Justice and Mount Vernon High Schools to address student retention and the dropout rate and have given Fort Belvoir Primary an instructional coach and two additional resource teachers to address core reading instruction for their K-3 program,” Braband said. “We fully expect these supports and strategies will result in accreditation improvement for these schools next year.”
The press release also noted the unique issues faced by some students at Mount Vernon, Justice and Fort Belvoir Primary. The two high schools in particular have among the highest number of students classified as “economically disadvantaged” in FCPS, and have many students who hold jobs and face housing insecurity, according to the press release.
“FCPS is aware that students sometimes experience extended interruptions to their schooling, hold jobs in addition to attending school, or have other issues affecting their attendance such as housing insecurity,” the FCPS release said. “The school division is reviewing available data and developing strategies to keep these students in school and provide additional supports.”
Two of FCPS’s alternative high schools, including Bryant High School in Groveton, were “accredited pending the review of proposed alternative education plans.” Once those plans are approved, the two schools will be granted waivers by the state, which will guarantee they are accredited for three years, according to the press release.
New accreditation rules
The Virginia Department of Education changed the criteria for accreditation in 2017, and the 2018-2019 accreditation cycle was the first in which the new system was fully implemented.
On top of the English, science and math assessments and graduation statistics, four new areas were added to the overall accreditation criteria in 2017: Achievement gaps for English and mathematics assessments, chronic absenteeism, and dropout rate.
There are also only three levels of accreditation now:
Accredited: Schools meet targets or show adequate growth for all school quality indicators
Accredited with Conditions: Schools have one or more performance area below the target but are actively addressing their area(s) of need
Accreditation Denied: Schools that fail to adopt or fully implement required corrective actions to address the VDOE’s “Level Three” school-quality indicators
Statewide there were 152 schools that were accredited with conditions. No schools had accreditation denied.