Evaluating Prince Edward’s schools

Published 12:29 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Prince Edward Schools have received a great deal of public criticism in recent years. There is no question that our schools, despite major reform efforts by teachers and administrators, continue to face serious challenges and need considerable well-focused improvement.

But criticisms of the schools are often based on very limited criteria and information. Federal and state evaluation criteria, driven by No Child Left Behind, have focused almost exclusively on identifying and remediating students who fail to achieve basic levels of skill. This information is critically important, useful and widely publicized. The problem is that it becomes the sole measure of school effectiveness. In fact, however, it says very little about the achievements of the majority of students.

At Prince Edward High School, for instance, the scores reported by the Virginia Department of Education indicate that 15-30 percent of students fail to meet state benchmarks. This is a serious problem that requires public attention, professional expertise and community resources to address. But these statistics say almost nothing at all about the other 70-85 percent of students except that they have at least basic grade-level competencies.

Email newsletter signup

To more accurately evaluate our schools, we need a broader view, both of the data and of what is being accomplished by students, teachers and administrators every day. In evaluating the high school, for instance, are we aware that the Virginia Department of Education website also reports that 21 percent of all students are enrolled in courses for college credit, that Prince Edward has an Advanced Placement program, the only one in the region, or that twice as many students score “pass advanced” on the challenging Algebra 2 and chemistry tests as fail them? Are we taking into account our strong vo-tech programs, including nursing and business as reflected in the large number of awards in regional and state FBLA competitions?

We have to continue an all-out effort to identify and support all who struggle to reach proficiency. But we should not allow the highly publicized and poorly understood data designed for that purpose to convince us that this is the sole and full measure of our schools. If we do, we will undermine our schools by mistakenly convincing ourselves and others that our children cannot get a good education here. Hundreds of classes daily and thousands of graduates are living proof to the contrary.

Ellery Sedgwick is a former school board member with children in the Prince Edward Public Schools for over 20 years. His email address is esedgwick@longwood.edu.