Four out of 24 schools in Albemarle County Public Schools were accredited with conditions on Thursday, according to school officials.
Greer, Mountain View, Red Hill, and Woodbrook elementary schools had one student demographic group that did not pass state Standard of Learning exams, according to officials. Those schools will be required to develop an improvement plan, which will then be reviewed by the Virginia Department of Education.
This year’s results more closely resemble pass rates prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but underserved students are lagging behind their peers. Even if Albemarle County schools made up for students’ learning loss during the pandemic, many of its pupils are still testing below grade level.
“We are not providing all the necessary resources to empower our Black and Hispanic students, our students with disabilities, our students for whom English is not their primary language, and our students who are economically disadvantaged to achieve at the highest levels of their potential,” said school superintendent Matthew Haas.
Eight other schools in the system were accredited with waivers. This means that although one group of students in each of the eight schools did not meet the benchmark, the schools had a three-year record of being up to snuff.
Twelve schools saw students in every demographic group meet the state standard.
Students from third through 12th grade are tested yearly in reading, writing, math, science and social studies.
The unadjusted pass rate, which does not take into account progress made over time, was 75% for all students in the county schools. That’s slightly above the state average. But only half of Black students passed their exams in the county, while 60% did across Virginia.
Hispanic students tested similarly. Meanwhile, across the state, 58% of kids from economically disadvantaged backgrounds met the benchmark, compared with 51% in Albemarle County schools.
Less than half of the division’s disabled students passed their exams.
“This is not a problem that’s specific [only] to Albemarle County and no other school division in Virginia,” said Albemarle County Public Schools spokesperson Phil Giaramita.
Haas said Thursday’s accreditation report showed that, for several demographic groups, the state adjusted pass rates have improved compared to 2018-19 adjusted pass rates, the last full year before the pandemic. They were, however, still below state averages.
“What these results are telling us today is that we are making some incremental progress,” Giaramita said. “But that progress just isn’t fast enough.”
Albemarle County Public Schools has seen some positive changes after training educators in culturally responsive teaching and updating instruction based on the science of reading.
Culturally responsive teaching means using students’ customs, experience and perspectives as tools for better learning. Research has found that it leads to higher student engagement and success.
“While encouraging, this modest performance growth is insufficient. The key to closing our achievement gaps based on race, language-learner status, special capacities, and socioeconomics is for our entire division, together with our community partners, to develop plans and take actions with fidelity to ensure we are creating positive changes with a greater sense of urgency,” Haas said.
Giaramita hopes that an upcoming independent audit will reveal more areas for improvement.
The division will issue a request for proposal within the next 30 days to get an outside organization to review its reading instructional program classroom practices, intervention and support models and staffing.
The organization would then provide specific recommendations.
Giaramita did not have an estimate for when the audit would be complete, though he emphasized that the school division is motivated by a “sense of immediacy.”
“We can’t wait five years for these numbers to wind up where they should be,” Giaramita said.
A 2012 study showed that students who have fallen behind in fourth and eighth grades had less than a one in three chance of being ready for college or a job by the time they finished high school.
The school system is paying special attention to students’ reading abilities, which it sees as foundational to all academic achievement. Without it, a child cannot learn how to think analytically.
Haas said that the school division also plans to devote resources in the next budget to professional development, which includes certifying educators in culturally responsive teaching.
It also aims to reach out to families, businesses, and other members of the community in order to better serve students.
“Building expanding relationships with community stakeholders, schools and families will lead to closing access, achievement and opportunity gaps for our students,” said assistant superintendent for school community engagement Daphne Keiser.
Hass said that the exam results do not speak to county schools students’ ability to learn.
“They do reflect the inability of our current systems to produce the results we are seeking and clearly demonstrate the need for these systems to immediately change.”