James F. Lane

Lane

Later this month, Virginia’s Board of Education will get its first look at the draft of a plan being created to change graduation standards across the state, an effort aimed at better preparing students for new workforce realities.

The draft, which is scheduled to be presented at the board’s Sept. 22 meeting, is a major step in a process that is expected to change how high schools prepare the graduates who will enter as freshmen in 2018.

Changing these standards is part of a much larger state and federal effort to reimagine education, one that includes transforming how students are assessed, how schools are evaluated and how high schools function.

Because the final rules are still being developed, educators say it is too soon to know exactly how they will affect individual schools, districts and students.

“A child’s success should be measured by how much he or she grows academically during the course of one year,” James Lane, superintendent of Chesterfield County schools, said of how changes to accountability standards will affect classrooms.

“Moving forward, we will focus on developing authentic measures for academic growth, student engagement and student success,” Lane added. “We want to create classroom laboratories where students are free to explore the curriculum; participate in hands-on learning opportunities that demonstrate the relevance of what they are learning; and reignite their love for learning and exploration.”

The need to change graduation standards in the state is the result of the General Assembly’s “Profile of a Virginia Graduate” bill that was passed this year.

The legislation calls for the state Department of Education to create a profile identifying what skills students need to be better prepared for life after high school and to then change statewide graduation requirements to meet those expectations.

Driving the need for new standards is a realization that not all students want, need or should go to college. The idea is for the profiles to identify the core skills that individual students need for the tracks they should follow in order to make sure they are prepared to enter either the workforce or college.

One of the legislation’s authors, the late Sen. John C. Miller, D-Newport News, envisioned students taking core classes their first two years of high school, with those wanting to go to college taking courses preparing them for that, while those wanting to enter the workforce having the flexibility to earn credits toward their diplomas through internships, apprenticeships and industry certification.

Students on both tracks would be exposed to training, community college, guidance and courses designed to ensure they are prepared to tackle whichever track they follow after high school, he had said. Miller died in April.

Chief among the changes coming to schools in Virginia — and nationwide — is the Every Student Succeeds Act, an overhaul of No Child Left Behind that was approved with bipartisan support and signed by the president in December.

The new rules are meant to give individual states and local school systems more autonomy and say in how schools and students are evaluated.

ESSA, as the legislation is known, helps bring to an end a period when schools were graded and deemed to be successes or failures based on their students’ standardized test scores. The law gives states flexibility to consider additional measures, such as graduation rates.

“The signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act and the state’s emphasis on accountability reform recognizes that no single metric should define the worth of a child, teacher, school or school division,” said Michael B. Gill, Hanover County’s superintendent of schools.

“While accountability serves a purpose — and Hanover has thrived in the era of accountability — multiple measurements and a holistic approach to education is where we are focused,” Gill said.

The hope is to submit the plan for feedback and approval to the U.S. Department of Education in March.

To get the public’s input on ESSA and the “Profile of a Virginia Graduate” bill, the Department of Education held four public hearings across the state this summer.

Charles Pyle, a Department of Education spokesman, said officials saw high public interest in the potential changes, with larger-than-expected crowds turning up for the hearings. Two of the hearings drew more than 100 people, and the others were also well-attended.

“We felt those numbers represented a pretty good turnout for the middle of summer,” Pyle said, “for a very high-level discussion about what might Virginia public education look like just over the horizon.”

The public’s input will be taken into account as state education officials finish work on the draft plan to be unveiled this month and when developing the ESSA rules.

The final plan should be completed by the fall of 2017 and in place in time for the arriving freshmen the following year.

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