News / USA

Diverse High School Battles Low Test Scores, High Drop-out Rate

The dropout rate at T.C. Williams in Alexandria, Virginia ranged from 13 percent in the 2006 school year to more than 10 percent this school year, according to the Virginia Department of Education.
The dropout rate at T.C. Williams in Alexandria, Virginia ranged from 13 percent in the 2006 school year to more than 10 percent this school year, according to the Virginia Department of Education.


Penelope Poulou

TC Williams, the only public high school in the city of Alexandria, Virginia, is dealing with challenges.

The school is known for its ethnic and cultural diversity but it has been named by Virginia's Department of Education as one of the lowest achieving schools in the state.

The unflattering review follows the students' consistently low scores on federally mandated Standards of Learning Tests.

But many ask if the students are failing or if the US educational system is failing them.

In 1971, TC Williams' experienced racial integration. The same year, the public high school in Alexandria, Virginia and its ethnically mixed football team made headlines by winning the state championship.

Forty years later, the school is even more diverse.  

Immigrants in large numbers have been moving to Alexandria.  

Alexandria Public School Superintendent Morton Sherman points to diversity as one of the school's strengths.

"That is the face and voice of America. And it is a wonderful face. And there are wonderful voices there of teachers and children working hard to succeed," says Sherman.

According to Sherman, 84 percent of last year's graduating class went to college. The dropout rate at T.C. Williams ranged from 13 percent in the 2006 school year to more than 10 percent this school year, according to the Virginia Department of Education. Most of the dropouts were minorities.

The persistently low test scores of TC Williams students have made the school one of the lowest achieving in Virginia.

Filomena Reyes, a student there, says many kids lack basic reading skills and self confidence.

"It's coming from another country and not speaking the language and being told that you can't learn the language, that you're so stupid, that you're not gonna learn it," says Filomena. "Being told that Hispanics are not worth anything."

Filomena arrived in the United States from central America five years ago. She did not speak any English. Today she writes a column in the school newspaper. She credits her foster mother for her success.

But not all of the students have family support.

"They cry and they cry with all their hearts," says Guadalupe Silva-Kraus,  the school's counselor. "Because they try not to be babies but they still are. And they try to be grownups in a different country and they don't know how to."

Guadalupe says many immigrant parents have two jobs and no time to spend with their kids. So kids look in the wrong places for love.  

Some, like Carolina, end up pregnant. She has a 1-year-old baby.

"I didn't want to come to school," she says. "I had so many people coming up to me asking me 'why this, that.' I got picked on and I got pushed when I was pregnant."

Rafael Lopez, graduating this year, says he was involved with gangs. Now he is studying hard because he wants to go to college. He faults the students for TC Williams' failure.

"They don't go to classes. They skip their classes."

But Bander, from Egypt,  says "don't blame the kids. Blame their families."

"They want them to drop out and get a job so that they can pay their own rent."

Middle class students with high scores, on the other hand, feel underserved by the school. One of them is Catherine, a senior at TC Williams. .

"I'd be wanting to pay attention but because there's disruption in the class or because the teachers were not really paying attention to the students, that nothing really got done."

Gregory Baldwin, a special education teacher, blames standardized tests mandated under "No Child Left Behind." The law was passed under President George W. Bush.   

"You are more than a test score. You are more than a grade," says Baldwin. "We don't believe that this one size fits all approach works."

Superintendent Sherman has been under pressure to raise test scores. Recently, he unveiled a plan for improving the school's academic standards.

The plan involves smaller classrooms, more professional development for teachers and more extensive student tutoring.

Teachers agree. They say this is not only about academics in one failing U.S. public high school. It is about the changing face of America and the need for a new system that works for everyone.

An earlier version of this story reported that T.C. Williams has a 30 percent dropout rate. That figure is incorrect. VOA regrets the error.

You May Like

10 Migrants Drown, While 4,100 Rescued off Libyan Coast

All of those rescued are being ferried to Italian ports, with some arriving on Italy's southernmost island, Lampedusa, and others taken to Sicily and Calabria More

HRW: Saudi-led Airstrikes Use Banned Cluster Bombs

Human Rights Watch says photographs, video and other evidence have emerged indicating cluster munitions have been used in 'recent weeks' in airstrikes in Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen More

Hopes Fade of Finding Survivors of Nepal Earthquake

US military aircraft, heavy equipment and air traffic controllers arrive in Nepal to help manage growing piles of relief supplies clogging Kathmandu airport More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil Wari
Henry Ridgwell
May 03, 2015 1:12 AM
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.

Video 'Woman in Gold' Uses Artwork as Symbol of Cultural Identity

Simon Curtis’ legal drama, "Woman in Gold," is based on the true story of an American Jewish refugee from Austria who fights to reclaim a famous Gustav Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis during World War II. It's a haunting film that speaks to the hearts of millions who have sought to reclaim their past, stripped from them 70 years ago. VOA's Penelope Poulou reports.

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.

Video Taviani Brothers' 'Wondrous Boccaccio' Offers Tales of Love, Humor

The Italian duo of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies for half a century: "The Night of the Shooting Stars," "Padre Padrone," "Good Morning, Babylon." Now in their 80s, the brothers have turned to one of the treasures of Italian culture for their latest film. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.

Video Challenges Await Aid Organizations on the Ground in Nepal

A major earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday and killed thousands, injured thousands more and sent countless Nepalese outside to live in makeshift tent villages. The challenges to Nepal are enormous, with some reconstruction estimates at around $5 billion. Aid workers from around the world face challenges getting into Nepal, which likely makes for a difficult recovery. Arash Arabasadi has the story from Washington.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs