What’s next? District officials look to build on progress

Published 5:31 pm Thursday, August 25, 2022

BY BRIAN CARLTON AND RACHEL AUSTIN

The Farmville Herald

Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward school districts all saw dramatic improvements in this year’s Standards of Learning (SOL) scores. So how did it happen? And what happens next? We asked staff from the different districts what they are doing, or plan to do, in order to continue the growth.

MAKING CHANGES AT BUCKINGHAM HIGH

Buckingham County Public Schools saw dramatic increases in some areas, with Buckingham High students setting the best example. In the reading test, 82% of the school’s students passed, compared to 64% last year. The state average, meanwhile, was 73%.

In writing, 74% passed at the high school, as opposed to 65% across the state (writing test scores weren’t reported to the state last year). Math is where the Buckingham High students really shined, with 86% passing the SOL test. In this case, Buckingham High was 20 percentage points above the rest of the state, which came in at 66%. It was also a dramatic bounce for the school itself, as only 58% of Buckingham High students passed the test last year. One of the big changes, said Patti Branch, involved altering the way the school handled testing. Branch is the principal at Buckingham County High School.

“We changed the way we did testing,” Branch said. “We did 90% of our SOL testing in two days. We did two virtual days for high school students only. On those days, the only students who needed to come in person were those who were going to test.”

Those who came in got 50 minutes of remediation and review before being released to their testing site, Branch said.

“It really helped eliminate distractions for students,” Branch added. “(It also) eliminated pulling teachers from their planning block to serve as proctors and examiners for days and days of testing.”

The other key, Branch said, was the after-school remediation program set up at the school. For three days a week, students could practice for the test, with transportation home provided. Then as SOL testing time got closer, the school also held remediation sessions during the school day once a week. Students also received crash course reviews on important SOL concepts.

“The biggest factor in this is that I have an amazing staff who don’t give up on kids,” branch said. “They are awesome teachers who think outside the box to keep students engaged and work hard to build those relationships with their students. They worked tirelessly and it paid off.”

WHAT DOES THE DATA SAY?

In Cumberland County, staff members are crunching numbers to see where the district needs to go from here. The SOL scores looked good in several places. Math scores were up, with 58% of district students passing the test this year. Last year, only 33% did that. The same goes for reading, where 59% of students passed, compared to 56% last year.

The biggest changes came at Cumberland High, where the school’s 78% pass rate on reading was higher than the state’s 73%. Math scores, which were an issue last year, also saw a big jump. In the 2020- 21 school year, only 16% of Cumberland High students passed their math SOL. This year, that more than doubled, to 36%.

Cumberland Superintendent Dr. Chip Jones said while the scores are important, he also wants people to remember schools are more than standardized test scores.

“Our staff is continuously working on improvement,” Jones said. “School administrators have begun analyzing data and are working to provide professional learning for teachers, adjusting pacing guides, planning enrichment and remediation activities. The division is committed to making Cumberland County Public Schools a place where students and staff want to come on a daily basis.”

Meanwhile in Prince Edward County, Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson said she was pleased with the way things were going and wanted to stay on the right track.

“Our staff and students continue to make excellent progress,” Johnson said. “We are on the right trajectory and I am proud of the hard work they have produced.”