Prince Edward Elementary honored with state improvement award

Published 8:22 am Friday, July 21, 2023

FARMVILLE – It’s about the science of reading. That’s what Prince Edward County Elementary Principal Teresa Vance says. It’s part of how the elementary school came in this past year fully accredited with no conditions, meeting or exceeding state standards across the board. It’s also partly why the school was recognized this month by the Virginia Department of Education. Prince Edward Elementary became one of only 93 schools in the Commonwealth to receive a Continuous Improvement Exemplar Award.

“We have an amazing faculty, we have an amazing team of professional educators,” Vance said. “They have really dug in 100%. They have adjusted their instructional practices to meet the needs of the students. I can’t thank them enough.” 

To be eligible for the Exemplar Award, a school has to show growth. Not for one month or one year. It has to be continued growth and development over a three year span. Specifically, for elementary schools, scores in math and reading have to go up, with a total increase of ten points or more. Now elementary schools are only measured in math and reading, since the science test isn’t given until the fifth grade. This year’s award also removed the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, due to the fact many districts didn’t keep track of those statistics early in the pandemic. 

Crunching numbers for Prince Edward Elementary

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And the numbers were impressive for the elementary school. The data shows Prince Edward Elementary met or exceeded all of the state standards for English and math. The school also closed achievement gaps in both subjects, improving beyond state standards.
Vance said the biggest key over the last two years has been to put a plan in place.
“Part of it is just putting together an instructional framework, strengthening our tier 1 instruction and making sure our teachers are trained (in the framework),” Vance said. “We put things in place like a literacy plan and a math plan. We’re all rowing in the same direction.”
The school’s improvements are particularly impressive in that it’s happening across the board. All student groups at Prince Edward Elementary are improving. The growth is happening on all grade levels as well.
This marks the first time since before 2018 that the elementary school exceeded state standards in English. And to be clear, it was a pretty significant jump. In 2018, 72% of students passed or showed significant improvement in English. That number fell to 64% in 2019, the last time the pass rates were recorded. This time around, 83% of Prince Edward Elementary students hit that mark, almost 10% higher than the state standard of 75%.
An estimated 88% of students at the school either passed both their math and science tests or showed significant improvement. This is the fourth straight year of growth in both areas and the third year of achievement above 80%.

The science of reading  

One thing Vance found when she took over two years ago was that students needed help reading. 

“We had structures in place, but we weren’t getting the outcomes,” Vance said. 

So they did an analysis, looking at the data. Staff from the Virginia Department of Education were brought in, to help come up with a plan. And that’s where the science of reading comes in. 

“What we found is the science of reading, that’s how students learn,” Vance said. 

In some ways, it’s going back to an older way of teaching, using things like phonics and word recognition. Students learn letter sounds and sound-spelling, working to recognize the sounds within words. Over time, they move from syllables to the individual sounds, connecting them to letters. Also, the science of reading focuses on comprehension, making sure that students don’t just say a letter or word, but that they understand it. 

“We found we needed to have a consistent framework for teaching those subject areas,” Vance said. “The state helped us zero in on those areas that need to be addressed.”

Vance also credited Longwood University, whose staff helped the elementary school develop a full literacy plan. 

“Everyone contributed their piece,” Vance said. “It’s moving us in the right direction.”