Rapp schools accredited, RCES ‘with warning’

Raised standards, lower scores affect math rating

Rappahannock County Public Schools’ elementary and high school received their state accreditation recently, though the elementary school was issued an “accredited with warning” status due to low math scores. Of the 1,828 schools in Virginia, RCPS was one of 1,413 school systems to receive full accreditation.

Accreditation is handed down by the Virginia Department of Education and is determined by students’ performances on Standards of Learning (SOL) tests and other exams in the areas of English, math, history and science. Ratings are based on testing results from the previous academic year, meaning the results here are from the 2012-2013 school year.

Results from the current school year (2013-2014) won’t be released until fall 2014. Judged according to the stiffened statewide standards for the 2012-2013 year, 23 percent of Virginia’s public school systems missed full accreditation — a full 7 percent more than in 2011-2012. Those accreditation standards will likely rise again for the 2013-2014 school year, as the VDOE demands increased academic rigor.

This year, high schools were considered fully accredited if students scored 75 percent or higher on the English SOL, and 70 percent on math, science and history during the 2012-2013 school year, or on average over the last three years.

Rappahannock County High School easily surpassed those numbers — except in math, where its score for the year was 61 (its three-year average 70, the minimum passing grade). RCHS scored a 75 on English this year (85 over three years), 79 on history (82 over three years) and 87 on science (93 over three years).

Superintendent Donna Matthews pointed out that, although some of those scores may initially seem low, all the SOLs have been heavily revised in the past few years, meaning school systems across the country are still teaching relatively new material.

Both Matthews and school board chairman John Lesinski pointed out that this is only the first year RCES has failed to meet an objective. “I fully expect us to pull ourselves out of this [with this year’s tests],” said Lesinski.

New history standards were enacted before the 2010-2011 school year, Matthews said; math was revised in 2011-12 and new technology tests were added to the science and English tests last year. This was the first full year teachers had to teach to the new math SOL, and Matthews said she expects the score to rise.

Schools that fail to meet the accreditation benchmarks for four consecutive years are denied their accreditation, after which the school division must inform parents of the school’s rating and submit a corrective plan designed to boost their academic standing, including a timetable for its implementation, to the VDOE.

The 2013 General Assembly approved legislation creating a statewide school division — known as the Opportunity Education Institution (OEI) — to supervise schools that have been denied accreditation, beginning with the 2014-2015 school year. The legislation also allows OEI to assume responsibility for schools who receive “accredited with warning” status for three consecutive years. Schools under the supervision of OEI would be eligible to return to the control of the local school board upon achieving full accreditation.

That legislation, however, is currently under scrutiny from the Virginia School Boards Association, which recently submitted a lawsuit declaring OEI unconstitutional, on the grounds that it violates part of Virginia’s constitution stating that “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.”

Furthermore, Virginia’s constitution also states that only only the VDOE can create school divisions; the VSBA lawsuit alleges the creation of OEI by the General Assembly violates that constitutional article.

At their Sept. 10 meeting, the Rappahannock County School Board joined numerous other Virginia school systems in signing a resolution pledging its support of the VSBA in its lawsuit against OEI.

At that same school board meeting, Matthews said RCHS received a math-science partnership grant from the VDOE which will allow two RCHS math teachers to earn their Master’s degrees in education (with a focus on math) in three years at almost no cost. The classes, through Radford University, are online and, when completed, will allow RCHS to offer dual-enrollment math classes in partnership with Lord Fairfax Community College. All of which, Matthews suggested, should help further enhance students’ math SOL scores.

Due to its low math score (69 percent), the elementary school received an “accreditation with warning” status. According to the VDOE, “schools that are accredited with warning undergo academic reviews and are required to adopt and implement school improvement plans . . . and also are required to adopt instructional programs proven . . . [to] raise achievement in these subjects.”

RCES students scored a 64 on this year’s math SOL (and averaged 68 over the last three years), a 66 in English (77 over three years), 78 in history (77 over three years) and 62 in science (75 over three years). Rappahannock’s 68 in math was two percentage points below the VDOE requirement of 70 percent, Matthews said.

“Virginia’s public schools are beginning a new trend line with the implementation of more challenging standards and assessments,” said superintendent of public instruction Patricia I. Wright. “It’s important to consider the increased rigor of new reading and math SOL tests before making conclusions about schools that missed annual objectives.

“Virginia has raised the bar to prepare students for the realities of the 21st century.”

Also important to remember, Matthews said, is that even with a warning status, RCES is still in good academic standing, and is not considered a “priority school” by the VDOE. “Everybody initially sees ‘priority’ as a good thing, but those are the schools who need the most attention,” Matthews said. “That’s not us.”