News

F.C. Schools Initial Enrollment Down, But Scores Are Stellar

THE 7 MEMBERS of the Falls Church School Board with Superintendent Peter Noonan (far right) heard a presentation on school performance data at their meeting Tuesday night. (Photo: News-Press)

On the first day of the new school year for the Falls Church City Public Schools earlier this month, enrollment was down almost two dozen over the previous spring, Superintendent Peter Noonan announced.

However, Noonan told the News-Press in an interview Wednesday that the initial snapshot was unofficial, and probably won’t reflect the numbers that the schools will evaluate on the last day of this month. Those will be the numbers that the system sends to Richmond to qualify for state funding formulas. Noonan said he expects that number to be significantly higher than first reported.

Next Thursday, Sept. 27, the Virginia Department of Education is expected to release its accreditation reports for schools statewide, and Falls Church City Schools are assured of very high marks, especially given the report presented to the F.C. School Board this Tuesday by Jeanne Seabridge that evaluated the system from the standpoint of state assessment, accreditation and federal accountability standards.

The data presented show, for example, that the City’s schools ranked No. 1 in pass rates in all five categories of state Standards of Learning (SOL) tests among all schools in Northern Virginia, No. 1 in math, reading, writing, history and (tied for first) science. Statewide, the results show the F.C. schools ranked first in history, second in reading, third in writing, fourth in science and tied for fifth in math.

But while these outstanding numbers are commensurate with the reputation of the Falls Church schools, they’re not as impressive when evaluated from the standpoint of the system’s “special populations,” namely, its English language learners, economically disadvantaged and special education populations.

While these categories show lower performance levels across the board in the state, the same is true for Falls Church. The data shows that while the SOL pass rate is at 87 to 95 percent for all students in the system, for those in these special population areas, they range in the 67 to 85 percent band, even as those are higher than the statewide average, and in the case of reading, writing and history for students with disabilities, the Falls Church pass rate is the highest in the state in all those categories.

In fact, the only category of special population students where the pass rates are below the state average is in science for students who are economically disadvantaged and English learners. Where the rates are 69 and 58 percent statewide, respectively, in Falls Church they are 54 and 57 percent. Still, the Falls Church special education pass rate is ahead of the state pass rate for science, 64 to 50 percent.

This data shows, Noonan told the News-Press, that “while on aggregate we are doing very well, in these special population areas, there is room for improvement.”

In this context, there was another unusual bit of data presented by Seabridge to the board Tuesday night, and it was in the area of overall enrollment where growth came in the last year in the special population categories, offsetting lowered enrollment in the general student population.

Noonan told the News-Press he found that information “highly interesting,” and he did not have an immediate explanation.

Between the 2016-2017 school year and the 2017-2018 year, there was a jump in enrollment by a total of 74 students, while the enrollment growth in the system overall was flat (suggesting a drop in the number of non-special student category). The jump among special students was over 20 in each of the three categories — English language learners, economically disadvantaged and special education — increasing their numbers overall from 805 to 879 in the system.

“It appears that some folks may be looking at Falls Church as a destination district,” he said. “We may have to take a closer look at this trend to see if we need to make adjustments accordingly.”

Among the student population generally, the SOL pass rates for George Mason High School students last year were 96 for reading, 94 for writing, 95 for history/social sciences, 83 for math and 90 for science. For Henderson Middle School students they were 93 for reading, 91 for writing, 95 for history/social sciences and 89 for math and 92 for science.

At Thomas Jefferson Elementary, they were 91 for reading, 94 for history, 89 for math and 87 for science.