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Report shows most Alexandria middle and high school students feel unsafe

A report presented to the School Board last night (Thursday) highlighted safety concerns — but also said there are some positive signs for the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS).

Clinton Page, chief of Accountability and Research, said that the report showed that while elementary school students have maintained a fairly high and steady feeling of safety, at the secondary levels — middle and high school — those have trended downward since 2020-2021.

“There’s a real delineation of the results by level,” Page said. “At the elementary level, we’ve seen climate remain steady or increase across the majority of indicators. It’s at the secondary level where we’re really seeing the downward trend.”

This past year, the survey of students found that the feeling of school safety at the secondary education level dipped below 50%.

ACPS survey results on feelings of student safety, which the elementary level marked in red and the secondary level marked in blue (image via ACPS)

“Safety has obviously been a big topic,” said Page. “When we look our safety results at the elementary level, we see that go from 91% to 85%. However, when we look at that in our secondary schools, we see that going from 75% to 46%. We’re really seeing those results differentiate between the primary and secondary level.”

Page also noted that while there was a slight decrease in absenteeism during the last year, it’s still double the rate from 2019.

In somewhat happier news, Page said that ACPS has seen steady academic growth and bucked some national trends.

A map of student achievement and academic growth from the 2021-2022 school year showed low achievement and low growth, exactly the areas ACPS doesn’t want to be in.

2021-2022 achievement and growth map for Alexandria City Public Schools (image via ACPS)

“High growth and high achievement are priorities, particularly high growth,” said Page. “Where we’re seeing the cluster in the 21-22 graph is in that lower lefthand quadrant.”

Page said this was a concerning spot for ACPS to be in.

“That’s low growth and low achievement,” Page said. “That’s the exact quadrant we don’t want to be in, and that’s where we found ourselves at the end of the 2022 school year.”

However, information from the most recent school year indicated significantly higher levels of academic growth and some higher levels of achievement.

“We can see the shift up,” said Page. “You see significant movement out of that lower quadrant in terms of our schools. We had 78% of our schools falling below the x-axis in 2022. In the current year, that went from 76% to 36%.”

Page said there are also higher rates of median achievement within the schools, which he said is encouraging and bucks national data in the 2022-2023 school year.

Math and science scores had particularly notable declines compared to reading and writing, which are closer to 2019 scores, according to Page, but that gap narrowed over the last year.

School Board Vice Chair Kelly Booz said it’s inspiring to see forward academic progress, though she acknowledged there’s still work ahead.

“We’re moving in the right direction across all categories,” Booz said. “There’s a lot on our plate. It’ll be a lot of work, and we’ll need the community support through this.”

Booz said that support will particularly be needed through possible redistricting, collective bargaining and the high school project.

“We’re going to need the community to work with us and partner with us as we go through steps over the next year,” Booz said. “Seeing all of this on the chart: we’ve been talking about all of these things, and I can see so much of the discussion we’ve had as a Board has been absorbed by the staff.”

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