Achievement gaps at S.P. Morton identified

Published 1:11 am Saturday, October 12, 2019

[Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series about the accreditation status of Franklin City Public Schools following the Standards of Learning test scores.]


Also contributing to S.P. Morton’s downgrade in accreditation status is an apparent disparity in SOL scores among student demographics. According to VDOE data, only 61 percent of black students at the school passed or showed improvement English SOL during the 2018-2019 school year. The pass rate including improvement for white students, by comparison, was 88 percent. The state standard is 75 percent. The VDOE refers to such disparities, once identified, as achievement gaps.

This constitutes a slight worsening of the disparity the VDOE identified at S.P. Morton during the 2017-2018 school year, in which 63 percent of black students passed the English SOL, while for white students, the pass rate was 83 percent.

The VDOE also identified a slight worsening of the achievement gap between students from economically disadvantaged households versus all students on the English SOL. During the 2018-2019 school year, the pass rate for students from economically disadvantaged households was 61 percent. The pass rate for all students, by comparison, was 67 percent. During the 2017-2018 school year, this gap was only three percentage points.

While the VDOE found similar disparities between black and white students on the math SOL, and among students from economically disadvantaged households, all student demographics at S.P. Morton had pass rates of at least 70 percent, which is the state standard.

The VDOE also identified a significant achievement gap among students with disabilities. Only 46 percent of students in this demographic passed or showed improvement on the English SOL in 2018-2019, compared to S.P. Morton’s overall pass rate of 67 percent. For math, only 55 percent of students with disabilities passed the SOL, compared to 77 percent overall.

Franklin City Public Schools’ school board has approved a plan to increase the number of Special Education teachers at each school,” Sterling said, when asked about the achievement gap for students with disabilities. “The Director of Special Education, Norletta Edmond, will conduct monthly professional learning communities (PLCs) that will focus on providing teachers with differentiated instructional strategies to support students with learning disabilities.

S.P. Morton specifically is developing personal instruction plans that provide students with special needs additional instructional time that will be provided after school, and weekend SOL academic academies.”

The English and science SOLs given to students during the 2018-2019 school year, Pyle confirmed, are the same as those that were given in 2017-2018 and prior. Math SOL results from the past two school years, however, are not quite an apples-to-apples comparison. An Aug. 13 press release from the VDOE states that the 2018-2019 school year saw the introduction of new math SOL tests reflecting revisions to the state mathematics standards approved by the state Board of Education in 2016.

Chronic absenteeism decreasing

Despite the drop in science scores and the widening of achievement gaps, S.P. Morton does appear to have improved in one accreditation factor: chronic absenteeism.

The VDOE defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of the school year. The percentage of S.P. Morton students who fell into this category during the 2017-2018 school year was 22.64, according to VDOE data. During the 2018-2019 school year, however, this figure decreased to 18.98 percent.

Even with the downgrade in accreditation status, S.P. Morton appears to have little need to worry about losing its accreditation status entirely. According to Pyle, schools that test below state standards in Virginia are now denied accreditation only if that school fails to implement a state-required corrective action plan. This change, along with the changes to how SOLs are scored, was implemented at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.

According to VDOE data, at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, a total of 88 schools in Virginia were denied accreditation under the system that had been in place in 2017 and prior. According to Pyle, only one school — Carver Elementary in Richmond — was rated as “accreditation withheld” during the 2018-2019 school year using the new system, owing to a lack of reliable data, which Pyle said was due to widespread irregularities in that school’s administration of the SOLs. No public schools in Virginia were denied accreditation for the current school year.