Some thoughts on SOL achievement

Published 11:35 am Saturday, August 30, 2014

Having had only a few days to digest this week’s release of SOL passing rate information and what it says about our local schools, I wanted to share some initial observations. I welcome your feedback whether you agree or disagree.

Progress is possible. Some of our schools made significant strides in passing rates. Using a blended average of all testing areas for each of the 13 schools in our primary coverage area, nine of the 13 saw its overall passing rate increase. The most profound improvements were made at Franklin High School and Windsor High School. Each school improved their overall pass rates by an astounding 10 percent, leading each back to fully accredited status. J.P. King Middle School and Carrsville Elementary School each improved by seven percent. Each accomplishment is significant in its own way. J.P. King, which has had its share of documented difficulties, made significant progress toward full accreditation. Carrsville Elementary, which just last year was recognized as a national Blue Ribbon School, managed to get even better.

Leadership really matters. It should come as no surprise at all that a school will do as well as the expectations that are set for it. The schools I mentioned, as well as several others, are led by passionate, committed principals who work tirelessly to lead their staffs and students to success. Clearly, their teachers and students responded with matching levels of enthusiasm and hard work that led to their good results.

Conversely, S.P. Morton Elementary School, whose principal had to be discouraged from resigning a year earlier only to successfully resign at the end of the most recent school year, saw the most precipitous drop in its passing rate. The overall passing rate of 53 percent for the 2012-2013 school year was extremely poor. It declined to an unimaginable 42 percent for 2013-2014.

There is still plenty of room for improvement. While several core subjects — specifically mathematics — were generally passed at a much higher rate, reading scores declined for many schools. The increased rigor of the exams certainly played a role, but should not be held solely to blame. Superintendents have already voiced recognition of the deficiency and are putting plans in place to improve student performance, and I expect their work to pay off.

It is our responsibility to help. One of the reasons why student performance has lagged so significantly at certain schools in recent years is due to the fact that, quite frankly, many children are showing up for kindergarten unprepared. Not only can many of them not read, but also cannot spell their own names or even recognize certain shapes and colors. To then expect teachers of these youngest students to bring them up to grade level in reading is asking an awful lot, if not for them to do the impossible. Schools need help in working with these children, much more so than will ever find its way into a school’s budget. The solution is for the community at large to volunteer their help. Most all of our schools have in place a reading program designed for people who want to volunteer their time, but are simply short on volunteers. And so, starting immediately, The Tidewater News is making each of our employees available for an hour a week, on the clock, to volunteer in a school of their choice. I am personally challenging each business in this community, to the extent of their ability to follow suit. We have all spent enough time lamenting the problem and waiting for someone to solve it. We are prepared to roll up our sleeves and put our money where our collective mouth is. I hope you will join us.

 TONY CLARK is the associate publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at