Isle of Wight area schools mostly above state SOL average

Published 2:34 pm Wednesday, August 27, 2014

WINDSOR—”What a great year” were the first words out of Windsor High School Principal Daniel Soderholm’s mouth when talking about the turnaround in the math department.

The new math test standards came out three years ago, and for two years Windsor students struggled, coming in with a pass rate of 60 percent and 58 percent, respectively, but this year, they unofficially shot up to a pass rate of 82 percent, which beats the benchmark of 70 and puts them in range to be fully accredited. The figure is also above the state average for math.

“It is all about the people,” Soderholm said. “We have a wonderful teaching staff who were committed to turning things around and engaging our students in meaningful lessons.”

Meanwhile, Carrsville Elementary and the Georgie D. Tyler Middle School are both well above the state average in many SOL pass rate percent categories, while Windsor Elementary is above the state SOL pass rate average in all except two categories.

System-wide, which includes the Smithfield and Carrolton schools as well, the mathematics pass rate is at 78 percent; English reading 80 percent; English writing 76 percent; science 86 percent; and history and social sciences 87 percent.

Superintendent Katrise Perera said chasing high test scores isn’t necessarily the goal for the system, as much as individual instruction is.

“The terrain of the SOLs is ever changing and educational research shows that it is important to focus on what your students need,” she said. “This will always remain the focus for educating our 21st century learners.”

Perera said expectations for students and staff are high.

“We have really worked to not allow the pursuit of educational excellence to just be a slogan. It is my belief that this motto is what truly motivates us as educators,” she said. “As superintendent it is my mission to provide the resources and professional development necessary to accomplish this goal to ensure our students are fully prepared for global success.”

Windsor High School

Windsor High School students climbed 37 percentile points in algebra I, from a pass rate of 51 percent to a rate of 88 percent. Algebra II made equally impressive gains, from a 52 percent pass rate to an 86 percent pass rate. Geometry moved from a 67 percent pass rate to a pass rate of 74 percent.

For students who struggled in algebra I, WHS put together a team of rookie teacher Jim Bohannon and experienced special education and math teacher Ronnie Harry, who helped complement the recent Christopher Newport University graduate.

“The two of them together were able to reach our freshmen algebra I students, who needed the most attention,” Soderholm said. “They not only taught in the classroom, but they worked with students during lunch; they worked during planning periods. The two of them are both amazing teachers.”

Another part of the equation for Windsor was that all of the teachers were flexible in the goal of making sure students got the extra work they needed. And of course, Soderholm, said the entire math department including Molly Nelms, Mike O’Neal, Ronda Gibbs and Math Chair Cynthia Bruce did a great job.

“I just can’t give enough kudos to my math department as a whole for all of the work they did last year,” he said, also noting that they have added a “new math teacher to our staff, which will make it even better going forward.”

And the focus on math didn’t hurt elsewhere, as benchmarks were achieved in the other SOL categories as well.

Based on data provided by VDOE, the pass rate for English was 84 percent across the board; the science pass rate moved up to 87 percent of test takers; and history and social studies students also improved to an 87 percent pass rate. Chemistry students jumped from an 84 percent pass rate to a 95 percent pass rate. In history, that’s partially on the back of a 20 point increase for students taking World History II, which jumped up to a 95 percent pass rate.

It’s not time to rest on their laurels, however, Soderholm said.

“The challenge that we have in front of us is to move from good to great,” he said. “Our goal is to continue to find ways to give our students the best education.”

Georgie D. Tyler Middle School

Windsor’s Georgie D. Tyler Middle School dropped in 6 categories from this past year, but it remained above the state average in all of them. Overall, the pass rates are well above the benchmarks required by the state.

In math, with a big gain in the grade 7 class, which moved from a 79 percent pass rate to a rate of 91 percent, the overall rate for math moved unofficially from 82 percent to 88 percent.

Perera said this comes from refocusing personalized learning for students.

“The goal was to get students to think deeper in math and the algebra readiness program was also expanded,” Perera said. “Breaking down the data to identify deficiencies and learning gaps will always produce positive results. This is one of the huge advantages to being a smaller school division, since we can really hone in on these needs more effectively as a team.”

English scores, which includes reading and writing, had a small drop unofficially, from an 83 percent pass rate to 81 percent. Grade 6 reading students had gains, but grades 7 and 8 declined in reading, while the writing students in grade 8 climbed.

Science dropped as well, from a pass rate of 87 percent down to 84 percent. History and social studies also suffered, dropping from a pass rate of 94 percent to 87 percent.

Despite the drop, all of the scores were still above state average in pass rate. Perera connected the decline in 3 of 4 SOL categories with increased rigor both locally and on the assessments.

“While I would have preferred to see gains, the increased rigor and change in classroom time impacted the scores,” Perera said.

But she added that not all hope was lost.

“We anticipate gains in the scores during this school year due to professional development that is being provided to teachers to give them effective strategies for teaching longer lessons in the shorter time allotted during the block,” Perera said.

Windsor Elementary

Windsor Elementary School’s single year unofficial English scores would not put them into full accreditation range. Though the school did improve, from an overall pass rate of 70 percent to 73 percent. The benchmark is 75 percent. However, on their unofficial three-year average, the school would make it with an average pass rate of approximately 77 percent.

VDOE will release the official overall ratings in September. Scores are not official as schools have until Sept. 3 to enter data from the summer.

Math, however, improved. While grade 3 pass rates met a decline to 76 percent, grade 4 and grade 5 students increased to 89 percent and 77 percent, respectively, which gives them an unofficial overall pass rate for math at 81 percent.

Science pass rates declined, from 87 percent to 85 percent. This figure is above the state average of 78.

History pass rates also declined, but only by 1 percentile point down to a 93 percent pass rate. The state average is 85 percent.

So while there were declines, the school is still above state average.

Perera said teachers have been able to focus on personalized learning, especially in math.

“The teachers at Windsor Elementary have focused on identifying struggling learners and really matching them with programs to assist their needs,” she said. “Anytime learning can be personalized to address specific deficiencies, improvement will occur.”

Carrsville Elementary

The math pass rate in Carrsville Elementary School, which was already above state average, climbed 9 percentile points in 2013-14 to boast an unofficial 91 percent pass rate overall. Before the rigor on the test had increased in 2011, the rate had been a 95 percent pass rate.

English also gained, from 80 percent to an unofficial 89 percent pass rate. Science grew from an 88 percent pass rate to a rate of 92 percent. History and social studies are in the same 95 percent pass rate range as they were this past year.

These figures are all well above state average.

Principal Laura Matthews said there are several reasons why Carrsville students have performed well.

“We have been really focused on increasing the level of rigor in daily instruction, as well as in our assessments,” she said. “And we’ve just been really looking at data to pinpoint areas of need so that we can work with individual students, based on their area of need.”

This is being done in a Title I school with more than 50 percent of its students under the economic deprivation rate. Though Matthews said they don’t think of it that way.

“We look at students as individuals,” she said. “We focus on where they are at the start of the year and set goals for the upcoming year and work to try to close any gaps from there.”

And it’s time for a new school year to continue to build on improving the education being provided.

“We are really going to focus on student engagement,” Matthews said. “We are making sure all students are authentically engaged and to continue to challenge them; continue to make sure the level of rigor and the quality of instruction is at the highest level possible.

“We want it to be challenging, but at the same time, we are offering the necessary support.

“We are excited to get started!”