‘Brutal facts’: Quarter 1 review reveals low FCPS student pass rates

Published 4:48 pm Thursday, November 30, 2023

Franklin City Public Schools Director of Curriculum and Instruction Krystal Thompkins presented the Franklin City School Board on Nov. 9 with a sobering collection of “brutal facts” in an FCPS Data Review that revealed low student pass rates relative to Quarter 1 SOL benchmarks, including seven instances at the high and middle school levels in which 0% passed.

WHAT THE DATA SHOWS

Thompkins opened by showing data from PALS, which is an assessment tool that was used to identify kindergarten through third grade students who are at risk of reading difficulties.

“In kindergarten, there’s 27% of our students who are identified as needing extra remediation and support, 77% first graders, 78% of second graders and 67% of our third graders,” Thompkins said.

She next highlighted STAR reading and math data, with her presentation noting that STAR is used to assess a student’s knowledge of reading and language and their knowledge of mathematics, and it identifies growth over time.

This data revealed significant percentages of students falling below the 10 percentile rank, which was the lowest PR identified in the presentation.

At multiple points during the presentation, both Thompkins and board members helped to apply context to the data they were reviewing and to the task that lies before the school division.

Thompkins said FCPS leaders “have to take into consideration that it’s going to take a few years for our kids to recover from the academic loss due to COVID. This is not a one- or two-year fix. This is going to be a multi-year and multi-tiered intervention process. Great teachers, great interventions and constant revisiting of the data to ensure that we know precisely where our kids are and how to intervene.” 

She then moved on to the Quarter 1 Reading Benchmark for students at S.P. Morton Elementary School. The slide in her presentation read as follows:

(2022-23 English SOL — 55% Pass Rate)

  • Grade 3 English — 26% above 70 points
  • Grade 4 English — 32% above 70 points
  • Grade 5 English — 18% above 70 points

“If you look at the ’22-’23 English SOL pass rate for S.P. Morton, it was a 55% pass rate,” she said. “If these students were to take an SOL right now, with 70 points being our 400 score for SOLs, this is how our data would look if we were to take the SOL assessment right now.”

Ward 1 Board Member and Board Chair Robert Holt said, “But if they took an SOL test, it would be based on the whole year?”

“It would be based on the whole year,” Thompkins said.

Holt said, “So these aren’t as bad as it looks.”

“Right,” Thompkins said. “So based on right now, these are based on SOL standards, this particular assessment.”

“When you have PALS, it’s more of broad phonics and phonological awareness,” she added. “When you think about our STAR, it’s a universal screener, showing us data reading over time. This is simply focusing on the SOL standards for the state of Virginia.”

Later in the meeting, At-Large Board Member Carrie Johnson expanded on the point Holt was alluding to with his question.

“So oftentimes when I taught in the public schools, the benchmarks were written at the level as if it were the end of the school year,” Johnson said. “Those passages and such were written already at the end-of-the-year level to get the children ready for that level of difficulty, to bring them up to that level. So they’re being exposed to that so that they’re ready for it at the end of the year.”

Thompkins later said, “The assessment, as you stated Ms. Johnson, it’s already written. The assessment is written at the cognitive level. It’s written. So we have to take a look at where is the gap? Is it in the taught or is it in the written? The written is already clear. It’s the standard. The testing is already aligned to the written. There may be a gap in the taught, and that’s where we have to address the gaps, and we’re working to address those gaps.”

Ward 4 Board Member and Board Vice Chair Cristina Boone questioned whether Enrichment Fridays were helping or hindering students, suggesting they could be reducing the time students are spending seated in the classroom and learning.

Enrichment Fridays were created by FCPS Superintendent Dr. Carlton Carter to work in conjunction with the school division’s four-day school week, giving students the option to come to school for learning opportunities on Fridays when regular classes are not in session.

Carter mentioned that a survey distributed to the community last year yielded an overwhelming response that the community still wanted Enrichment Fridays.

However, he highlighted two other initiatives being considered that could address Boone’s concern about seat hours. The first was a year-round school calendar that is under development, and the second was a potential move of Enrichment Fridays to Mondays.

“So you know the majority of the holidays are on Monday,” he said. “If I move Enrichment Fridays to Mondays … you have the time off anyway. … We did the math — it’ll actually increase seat hours.”

Boone reflected on Thompkins’ comments that the fix to student performance would take years, and she registered notable concern at the data being presented.

Carter said, “I wanted to show this early, and you know my philosophy — it is what it is. And we’re showing you now, and so we’re going to work aggressively to improve these numbers.”

“That’s what I wanted to hear — working aggressively,” she said, “not just from you … not just from every single staff member that’s here but everyone in general, meaning the teachers also. Because I was raised to where it takes a village for children, not just for unfortunately parents bringing children to school and dropping them off and that’s it, and then when they go back home, they’re not learning anything because, unfortunately, parents can’t read or write or anything else. And I’m sorry I feel so blunt about that, but like you just said, it is what it is. 

“I wanted to hear you say (working aggressively), that we’re not just putting this here for now,” she continued. “This is something we’re actually going to follow through, go through and see it to an end to where our children become great again. They’re great, but the greatness needs to show to where we become No. 1 again.”

“Oh, yeah, because we’re going to come back again and show you the next quarter benchmark to show you what we’re doing,” Carter said. “And so it will not be an autopsy, it will continue to be an examination. We are working with a sense of urgency, and that urgency is being pushed down through the schools. But we wanted to let the board know so you don’t think that everything is alright when it’s not. It’s not alright, it’s not alright, and we do need to work aggressively to fix it.”

“I appreciate it, because this is scary,” Boone said.

Johnson then offered more context for the elementary and middle school student pass rates relevant to the Quarter 1 benchmark.

“I don’t want to minimize these scores above 70 points, but I do want to say that I realize that these are Quarter 1 scores, and I realize that that’s the beginning of the year, and as an educator, I realize that it’s a race, and we’re at the beginning of the race,” she said. “Now if these were scores that you were giving me in April, my heart would be in my throat, and I’d be a little bit nauseous. But I get it, I get that this is our starting point and that you’re telling us, ‘We’ve got a ways to go.’ 

“If you come back to us at Quarter 2 and we haven’t really budged that much, then I’m going to start to be a little bit concerned,” she said. “I just want to make sure that everybody is aware that these are our first set of scores for the beginning of the year, and so these are (for example) third graders in their — September, October, November — third month of school. And when they take their SOL, they’re third graders in their ninth month of school.”

Thompkins affirmed that the elementary and middle school data reflects a starting point.

“We’ve got these brutal facts in front of us, so this is where we know our deficiencies are, and now we know what prescription we need to provide based on what it is that we’ve been diagnosed with,” she said.

Then she continued with her presentation.

Q1 Math Benchmark – S.P. Morton

(2022-23 Math SOL — 44% Pass Rate)

  • Grade 3 Math — 15% above 70 points
  • Grade 4 Math — 15% above 70 points
  • Grade 5 Math — 11% above 70 points

Q1 Science Benchmark – S.P. Morton

(2022-23 Grade 5 Science SOL — 30% Pass Rate)

  • Grade 3 Science — 8% above 70 points
  • Grade 4 Science — 4% above 70 points
  • Grade 5 Science — 13% above 70 points

Q1 History Benchmark – S.P. Morton

(2022-23 VA Studies SOL — 34%)

  • VA Studies Benchmark — 6% above 70 points

Then Thompkins moved on to pass rates from students at J.P. King Jr. Middle School.

Q1 English Benchmark – JPK

(2022-23 English SOL — 61% Pass Rate)

  • Grade 6 English — 15% above 70 points
  • Grade 7 English — 23% above 70 points

Q1 Math Benchmark – JPK

(2022-23 Math SOL — 28% Pass Rate)

  • Grade 6 Math — 0% above 70 points
  • Grade 7 Math — 9% above 70 points

Q1 Science Benchmark – JPK

Grade 6 Science — 4% above 70 points

Grade 7 Science — 0% above 70 points

Then Thompkins moved on to pass rates from students at Franklin High School.

Q1 English – FHS

(2022-23 English/Writing SOL — 70% Pass Rate)

  • Grade 8 English — 0% above 70 points
  • Grade 9 English — 0% above 70 points
  • Grade 10 English — 4% above 70 points
  • Grade 11 English — 20% above 70 points

Thompkins later clarified that the Q1 English data presented for FHS reflects only reading as the benchmark period coincided with the week of the actual writing test.

Thompkins did, however, confirm that the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th grade students are at the halfway mark in the testing cycle, as opposed to the elementary school students and sixth and seventh grade middle school students who are at the quarter mark.

Ward 2 Board Member Arwen Councill asked Johnson, “So this one you’d be able to say that yes, this is like ‘heart in your throat’?”

“Yeah,” Johnson said.

Holt said, “It’s just hard to believe zeroes. It’s hard to believe zeroes.”

Johnson later noted that the curriculum is very clear, and that the Virginia Department of Education does an excellent job in outlining exactly what it expects.

Providing more context for what students are being presented with, Thompkins said, “We’re not making up a test that’s easier. We’re using the standards, we’re using Performance Matters, which has all of their assessments based on the standard at the cognitive level they would see on the SOL.”

Boone said, “So, with that being said, we are holding the teachers accountable, correct?”

“Administrators as well, ma’am,” Carter said.

“I was getting to that part,” Boone said. “I just wanted you to say ‘yes’ first to the teachers.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Carter said.

“Because it’s a trickle formation when you look at it,” she said, “because if the teachers are being held accountable and administrators — which in plain English: principals, assistant principals — (are) being held accountable … this, unfortunately, Carrie, now that you’ve explained it and you’ve broken it down, I can sit down, but this here — this is my heart in my throat because this is high school.”

Boone said, “Especially when it comes to English, we’re not teaching Ebonics, we’re teaching English, and with these scores, they’re not leaving us with English. 

“I’m just going to sit here in silence,” she added. “I’m going to sit here in silence.”

Holt said, “Well, the accountability is in the classroom, but then it’s in the administration, and then it’s in the superintendent’s office, and then it’s us. So we all have a big piece in this. And listening to my colleagues on the board, it’s obvious we have a good understanding of this situation and a high level of interest in improving it.

“And I know you’re working very hard,” he said to Thompkins, “and I know Dr. Carter’s working hard. So we look forward to the next testing cycle to see how we’re doing.”

Thompkins continued with her presentation.

Q1 Math Benchmark – FHS

(2022-23 Math SOL — 79% Pass Rate)

  • Algebra I — 0% above 70 points
  • Algebra II — 5% above 70 points
  • Geometry — 0% above 70 points

Reacting to these numbers, Councill said, “How does that make any sense? Because math has always been something we’re strong at, so explain the data.”

Thompkins explained that the numbers she was presenting for Quarter 1 were reflective of a single take of the test, whereas the 79% pass rate for 2022-23 is reflective of students who had the opportunity to take the test multiple times and benefited from that process to produce better scores.

Q1 Science Benchmark – FHS

(2022-23 Science SOL — 36% Pass Rate)

  • Ecology — 5% above 70 points
  • Biology — 5% above 70 points
  • Chemistry — 0% above 70 points

Councill said, “So in theory, though, we should benefit from retaking the test in all of the different areas.”

“Correct,” Thompkins said. “High school will benefit from retests because they have to have at least one SOL in science.”

Councill added, “Well, I’m not great at data, but it just seems like we must be doing something good in math even if it is retakes because compared to science, there’s a big difference.”

Q1 History Benchmark – FHS

(2022-23 History SOL — 32% Pass Rate)

U.S. History I — 4% above 70 points

World History I — 23% above 70 points

Grade 8 Civics — 3% above 70 points

RETESTING DATA

Thompkins then presented some progress that FHS students showed in terms of their SOL testing performances for 2022-23, specifically highlighting summer retest scores.  

“We have summer opportunities for our seniors as well, so not only do they get to retake during the school year, for those students who need remediation in the summer, they also have an opportunity,” she said. “We have 14 students who were eligible for retests in Algebra I this summer, and 14 passed.”

Twenty-three students were eligible for retesting for World History I, and they all did so and passed.

One student was eligible for retesting in biology, and one was eligible for retesting in U.S. History, and both followed through and passed.

“So as you can take a look, when those students have had multiple opportunities, they receive the remediation that they need, you see the students who are eligible to test, they have met with some success,” Thompkins said.

NEXT STEPS FOR FCPS

Thompkins concluded her presentation with a listing of some of the things the school division is doing to help improve student performance.

  • Three reading specialists and four reading interventionists working with tier-2 and tie- 3 students

“We have three reading specialists, which based on our size, the state only requires one,” she said. “So we have three, which is really a gift, and four reading interventionists that are working with our tier-2 and tier-3 students.

“Our tier-3 students are students who need the most intervention, and our tier-2 students would be those students who have a slight deficit and who need some extra help,” she added. “So we’re working with all of those students who have been identified with PALS.”

  • Central office walkthroughs to monitor instructional delivery

“We’re doing walkthroughs as a central office team to monitor and provide teachers timely feedback based on what we’re seeing in the classroom to ensure that even though we’re looking at those standards, we recognize that there is a gap and a misalignment with the written test and taught, so our feedback is based on those indicators,” Thompkins said.

Johnson asked if school administrators were doing regular walkthroughs as well, and both Thompkins and Carter assured her that this is an emphasis and that principals are being held accountable, with professional development being called for as needed to help principals learn how to grow their teachers’ abilities.

  • Curriculum specialists provide daily instructional monitoring and feedback to teachers
  • Curriculum specialists provide job-embedded professional development, model instructional strategies and facilitate professional learning community team meetings

“Our curriculum specialists are working daily with teachers,” Thompkins said. “They’re in there with lesson planning, providing job-embedded professional development, working one-on-one sessions to ensure that teachers know how to write adequate lesson plans.”

  • Data review with teachers during professional learning community meetings
  • Standard lesson plan templates for the school division

“We have developed, now, a new lesson plan template for the school division, because without a well-written plan, we are not going to be able to have that execution of the written, taught and tested,” Thompkins said. “We have to have a plan, and currently we have multiple plans that are being utilized, so we need to standardize that process so that everyone is working using a lesson plan that is aligned to state standards but also has the elements that the state says makes a good plan.”

  • VDOE ALL-IN grant was approved and offers reading tutors to students in grades 3-8

“This is not an exhaustive list,” Thompkins said.

Summing up the state of the school division, Carter said, “You know I don’t sugarcoat it. We’re working on will and skill. It’s will and skill. Some things are a will problem, some things are a skill problem, and we’ve got to work on both.”