Rapp schools doing the math to keep up with changing SOLs

Rappahannock County students aren’t the only ones thinking about SOLs, as the school board heard a presentation last Wednesday night (Dec. 11) outlining the school system’s continued efforts to increase students’ test scores.

Carol Johnson, the school division’s director of instruction, explained to the board at its regular monthly meeting the steps the schools are taking to meet the state’s revised SOL standards. “Tests have changed so much in the past two years,” Johnson said, “especially the math test.”

School board members have said those changing SOL standards, in particular the math standards, were the reason Rappahannock County Elementary School received an “accredited with warning” status from the state accreditation board earlier this year. (Of 1,828 schools in Virginia, RCPS was one of 1,413 systems to receive full accreditation.)

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 Virginia Department of Education.

This year’s accreditation standards are based on test results from 2012-2013 school year; this is the first year RCPS has failed to receive anything but full accreditation.

In an effort to improve those scores and avoid a second consecutive “warning” status, Johnson said she’d recently participated in four evening sessions with Rappahannock’s math teachers. The sessions were grouped by successive grade levels, Johnson said, and designed to ensure the continuity of the math program, from its elementary school roots to its high school finish. Johnson said the talks emphasized finding real-world connections for math concepts that can seem abstract, and ensuring all students were familiar with the vocabulary present on the test.

“We are now completely aligned with the state’s goals,” Johnson said proudly.

Johnson also noted that the meetings included “in-depth schedule analysis,” which focused on ensuring every grade level spent an equal amount of time on math. Rappahannock teachers would also be undergoing a period of teacher observation soon, Johnson said, and would subsequently receive feedback on their implementation of the new math standards.

All classes will also be undergoing a second round of benchmark testing, Johnson said, with the first having just concluded in November. “Those results will help us identify our weaknesses,” Johnson explained. The second round is scheduled for next semester.

Johnson said she’s also planning a trip to a neighboring school division — most likely Fauquier County — so RCPS can observe and integrate what other school systems are doing to address the changing standards.

Furthermore, Johnson said she was scheduled yesterday (Wednesday, Dec. 18) to meet with the Office of School Improvement, a branch of the Virginia Department of Education that assists schools that have failed to meet the state’s annual standards, to check on RCPS’ overall progress.

“We’re already seeing improvement in the third graders,” Johnson said, though that news was tempered somewhat by the acknowledgment that other grades haven’t improved as drastically — yet. “It’s not a quick fix; it’s going to take time.”