By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: September 13, 2018 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – Students in Prince George County have been back in the classroom for just over a week’s time as the new school year gets underway and, after state testing data shows continued improvements in student achievements during the prior year, leaders are hoping to keep the momentum going into the current year.
According to the Virginia Department of Education, while pass rates on the 2017-2018 school year’s Standards of Learning testing were “little changed from the previous year,” improvements were seen in the county which resulted in all of the county’s schools earning full accreditation for the 2018-2019 year.
Last year, based on data from the 2016-2017 year, all but one of the county’s schools received full accreditation, with N.B. Clements Jr. High School receiving the designation of “partial accreditation; approaching benchmark-pass rate.”
As state-level school officials said in their statement upon the newest data’s release, that trend of little change either up or down in student achievement on the standardized tests was seen in Prince George County. According to the latest data, reading proficiency across the county’s schools fell two percent to 83, down from 85 percent the prior year.
Across the county’s schools, reading proficiency either remained level or slid down slightly, ranging from 74 percent at North Elementary, down seven percent from the previous year, to 91 percent at South Elementary, down two percent from the last year, with 2016’s 93 percent proficiency rate being the highest for the school in the past three years.
The county’s proficiency in math slid five percent from the previous year, down to 77 percent. The highest proficiency percentage in the subject was at L.L. Beazley Elementary School at 88 percent, down slightly from last year’s 93 percent, followed by 83 percent at Harrison Elementary and 82 percent at South.
In late 2017, the Virginia Board of Education approved revised Standards of Accreditation where school quality indicators for English and mathematics will include the academic growth of students making significant progress toward meeting state benchmarks. Schools will also be evaluated on progress in closing achievement gaps in English and mathematics, raising overall achievement in science and reducing chronic absenteeism. High schools will also be evaluated on their success in raising graduation rates and reducing dropout rates.
“An emphasis on overall pass rates can obscure the needs of groups of students who require additional support, both inside the classroom and in the community,” Superintendent of Public Instruction and former Chesterfield Schools Superintendent James Lane said. “Under the new accreditation standards, schools and school divisions are required to develop and implement plans to address achievement gaps and ensure that all students have the resources they need to succeed.”
The county’s numbers in the areas of science and social students remained fairly level, with little fluctuation in overall proficiency at 83 and 88 percent respectively. On a school-by-school level, Beazley Elementary saw the highest pass rate percentage in science at 91 percent, the highest rate the school has seen in the past three years, followed by Prince George High School and Walton Elementary at 83 percent and South Elementary at 81 percent.
In the area of history and social studies, Beazley and Walton remain in the mid-90s in pass rates at 95 percent, with South Elementary close behind at 90 percent. For South, while they remain in the 90s in terms of proficiency, their 90 percent pass rate is down from last year’s 99 percent, the highest of the last three years.
In an interview, Prince George Schools Superintendent of Instruction and Accountability Dr. Lisa Pennycuff had high praise for the county’s students and staff.
“Prince George County Public Schools celebrates the efforts of the students, teachers, support staff, and school administrators who work hard every day to ensure that all children have multiple opportunities to learn,” she remarked. “We are thrilled that their tremendous efforts matched the outcomes this year.”
Given Prince George Schools’ diverse student body, including a large number of military students, English language learners and others paired with ever challenging and evolving standards and assessments, school leaders explained they have to be flexible to ensure they are delivering proper instruction to students while meeting key benchmarks set on a state or federal level.
“Our challenge is not unique,” Pennycuff said. “It is in learning to personalize instruction, meet children where they are, and do everything we can to add value to their education during the time they spend with us.”
She continued, “We invest in the professional development of our educators to give them the training and tools they need to help all children grow. We are committed to providing all children with the very best education we can provide, and students from military families, our English Language Learners, economically disadvantaged students, as well as students with disabilities have experienced success.”
As the second week of the school year gets underway, Pennycuff said initiatives were put in place to help maintain and build upon the achievement seen during the previous year, including providing teachers with access to development opportunities.
“Teachers who are new to Prince George participate in the New Teacher Academy wherein they receive extensive professional development during the preservice days based on the responsibilities of their teaching assignment,” the assistant superintendent explained. “This training includes developing an understanding of the Tiered System of Supports as well as interventions that may be necessary to support students. New Teacher Academy sessions continue throughout the first semester. Additionally, Special Education Teachers participate in training to support their ability to provide specialized instruction for our students who often struggle the most with learning.”
In addition, Pennycuff said the school division offered its first Buck Institute for Education Project Based Learning training session, noting that the training was aimed at “reaching toward the characteristics we are working to develop in our children that are beyond those that can be measured in the SOL Test format,” such as collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, and citizenship.
“We are excited for the children of Prince George to have these experiences that will help us to prepare them for future opportunities in college or as they enter the workforce,” she said.
For Pennnycuff and the entire school division, Prince George Schools’ performance on the Standards of Learning tests and efforts to continue to raise the bar of student achievement serve as a body of work that represents the commitment of everyone in PGPS to providing high-quality education to the county’s students.
“Prince George County Public Schools values the tremendous efforts that the students, parents, faculty, and staff put into helping children learn every day,” she said. “We are very proud to have all of our schools Fully Accredited, but we are most proud that we have a dedicated team of caring people committed to giving every child multiple opportunities to learn.”
“We are thankful for the team we have here in Prince George who are making a difference in the lives of the children they serve,” Pennycuff closed.
To see the full results from the previous year of Standards of Learning testing or archived state standardized test data, visit the Virginia Department of Education’s website at http://doe.virginia.gov.