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school booksU.Va. Shifts Emphasis In Courses For Educators

Sept. 16, 1999 -- The state's Standards of Learning have not only changed the way public schools teach, they have also prompted changes in how the University of Virginia delivers its continuing education offerings to school personnel.

U.Va. Continuing Education officials have engaged in two major efforts to help school divisions meet the state-mandated standards in mathematics, science, English, history and social sciences, classroom technology applications, assessment and instruction. They have increased efforts to provide courses and workshops on-site in school districts, and they have placed greater emphasis on statewide conferences. As a consequence, they have worked with teachers and administrators in nearly all of Virginia’s 132 school divisions.

In 1998-99 more than 7,400 public school educators enrolled in Continuing Education courses to gain help in implementing the standards-based curricula. Another 2,000 since 1996 have enrolled in Standards of Learning-focused conferences, many planned collaboratively with the Virginia Department of Education.

"We believe U.Va. was the first higher education institution in the state to offer courses to assist school divisions in meeting the SOLs," said associate dean Dennis "Skip" Parks.

To gain an understanding of what help school districts would need, Continuing Education representatives began meeting with Virginia Department of Education officials in 1995, three years before the first SOL test results were made public.

Recognizing that there would be a tremendous need for districts to change their curricula to meet the accountability-driven standards, Continuing Education established in 1997 a Center for State and National Programs for Educators, led by Nancy R. Iverson. A former public school administrator who had watched the SOLs development closely, Iverson realized early on what impact the standards would have.

"We offered our first workshop in 1995, and no one signed up! No one seemed to appreciate just how challenging the SOL implementation would be until the first round of test results were made public in 1998," Iverson said. (Slightly over 2 percent of Virginia public schools had passing SOL test results in 1998; last year 6.5 percent had made the grade.)

Iverson and other Continuing Education representatives meet statewide with school officials to learn what their needs are and to design programs that meet those needs.

"The Standards of Learning Project is grounded in the principle that U.Va. Continuing Education must redouble its efforts to partner with school divisions to assist them in their efforts to align their curricula with the SOLs, to implement research-based instructional practices, and to make structural changes needed to meet requirements of the Standards of Accreditation," Iverson said. (Schools that do not have at least 70 percent of students pass the SOL tests by 2007 will be denied accreditation.)

Unprecedented Demand

The most popular course sequence in the SOL Project has been the certificate program in classroom technology applications. More than 11,000 registrants had been processed in the program through this summer.

To earn a certificate, participants must complete six hours of credit course work. "The beauty of the program is that as school personnel acquire technology skills, courses can be customized to meet their increased sophistication," said Parks.

Demand for the technology courses has been unusually heavy at the Northern Virginia Center, located in Falls Church, and at the Richmond Center.

Helping Meet Other School Needs

To help meet a critical shortage of special education teachers, Continuing Education has worked closely with U.Va.'s Curry School of Education to deliver its master's degree program in special education. Programs are being offered in the Roanoke and Northern Virginia Centers. U.Va. and Bridgewater College are also jointly offering special education courses this fall.

Continuing Education has also increased its reading courses by more than 38 percent -- offering 56 courses this fall -- to help meet heavy demand for teachers with advanced credentials in reading. Master's degree programs in reading are currently available in Lynchburg, Richmond and Northern Virginia; another program will begin soon in Shenandoah County, and others are being developed.

Continuing Education and the Curry School are also working closely on a series of four new courses in gifted education delivered at off-Grounds locations. The courses are designed for classroom teachers seeking an endorsement in gifted education.

For more information, contact Skip Parks at (804) 982-5207 or drp5e@virginia.edu or Nancy Iverson at (804) 582-5107 or nri5s@virginia.edu.

Contact: Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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