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Nearly one-third of Virginia public schools will not achieve full accreditation for this school year based on their Standards of Learning test results, state education officials said.

Of the state’s 1,827 public schools, an estimated 600 could be “accredited with warning” when accreditation ratings are released in September, said Charles Pyle, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Virginia bases school accreditation on the results of state standardized tests in math, reading, science and history. Schools receive an “accredited with warning” status if pass rates in one or more subjects dip below required achievement benchmarks.

Five years ago, less than 1 percent of state schools were accredited with warning. Of the 17 schools accredited with warning, none were in Fairfax County.

The astronomical jump in schools failing to meet required achievement levels comes as a consequence of new, more difficult exams in math, reading and science rolled out over the last three school years, Pyle said.

“What we’re seeing is the impact of the more rigorous tests we have put in place,” Pyle said. “It doesn’t mean students are learning less, or teachers are teaching less. It just shows the bar has been raised and it takes time to adjust.”

To determine a school’s accreditation, the Virginia Department of Education will take either the test scores from the most recent year or an average of the results from the last three years, whichever favors the school.

So when the new tests resulted in a decline in achievement, three-year averages allowed scores from the old tests to balance out those lower scores.

“That provides some mitigation for schools when assessments are changing and new standards are introduced,” Pyle said. “But we’re reaching the end of that window.”

The revised math tests have now been in place for three years. State SOL pass rates for last school year, the third year for the tests, are scheduled to be released next week. The latest data will show a slight increase in math scores as students and schools adapted to the new exams, Pyle said.

Reading and science scores, though, remained flat in the second year of revised exams for these subjects, Pyle said.

The first year of these tests saw precipitous achievement drops across the board. With little to no rebound in the second year, schools’ three-year achievement averages will take a hit.

Officials estimate that more than 200 schools could drop from “fully accredited” to “accredited with warning” when official accreditation statuses are released next month.

Schools that fall into the “accredited with warning” category must undergo a state review of curriculum and instruction and adopt academic improvement plans. If a school fails to move out of that category for four straight years, its accreditation is denied and it faces a comprehensive overhaul.

In 2013, the number of schools accredited with warning nearly quadrupled to 395, up from 100 in 2012. Last year, 12 Fairfax County schools were accredited with warning; in 2012, every school in the county was fully accredited.

“The revisions in state standards were not tweaks,” Pyle said. “These were significant changes that require parallel significant changes at the division, building and classroom levels.”

kyanchulis@fairfaxtimes.com