The Virginia Department of Education recently released accreditation ratings for this school year, which showed that all schools in Henry County and Martinsville are reaccredited, but educators and other school officials continue to push to improve.
“Through the pandemic, our students had that detachment by virtual learning and just having to learn everything in such completely different ways that having everyone reacclimate to schools and then be successful in the manner that they were was very important for us,” said Monica Hatchett, director of communications for Henry County Public Schools.
However, Hatchett also said there is room for improvement. Although all schools were reaccredited, Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School received a rating of “accredited with conditions,” which differed from their rating of “accredited” when the schools were last evaluated for the 2019-2020 school year.
“Accredited with conditions means that one of their indicators was rated at a level three, because the accreditation ratings come at different levels,” Hatchett said. “Any time a school has one or more indicators at a three, they receive an overall status of accredited with conditions.”
The middle school’s level three indicator was in science. Hatchett said that the school will undergo an academic review to ensure that the school aligns with the state’s desired quality of instruction, assessment, and instructional leadership.
Hatchett said the county schools will work to improve this field, as well as other areas such as English and attendance.
“We do certainly see that there are areas for improvement just like always, and for us usually our area of greatest concern is reading. This year is no different,” Hatchett said. “We certainly still continue to work on reading with our students at all levels, but especially at the foundational levels, and to continue to strive for excellent attendance with our students, because accreditation is related to attendance as well.”
While there are subcategories, schools are primarily rated based on “learning indicators” in Math, English, and Science.
Many county schools received lower ratings in the sub-indicators of “students with disabilities” across all subjects. Hatchett said the schools are looking at these lower scores in order to improve them in the future.
“We look at every – the state calls them gap groups – so that could be demographics, it could be economically disadvantaged versus not economically disadvantaged, it could be race, it could be special education status. And so, we do look at those gap group performances as well and consider that in our annual equity report each year as we strategize for serving each of our student populations,” she said.
Martinsville City Public Schools shared a similar sentiment.
Dr. Angilee Downing, assistant superintendent of instruction for the city division, said that maintaining the schools’ accreditation rankings was among the biggest successes.
“All of our schools are accredited, despite facing the challenges of a lot of students and teachers having to quarantine, especially the first part of last year, we still managed to move our students forward and get everybody in safely and do what we needed to do,” she said.
Downing said she believes that is due, in part, to a different approach the city takes towards learning.
“We focused on accelerating our student learning rather than remediating. We took a strength-based approach and looked at what do they know and how can we build on that to move them forward,” she said.
City Schools Superintendent Dr. Zebedee Talley Jr. said this is the seventh consecutive year the schools have retained accreditation status. He also said he is proud of the hard work of students and educators. He also attributed some of the success during the pandemic to the fact that all students in the city schools have a technological device.
“Going through a pandemic and still being successful was not easy for teachers and students. I challenged them to get in the classroom,” Talley said. “It was not easy for students and teachers, and they did a tremendous job to remain our accreditation status through this. Tremendous job.”
However, city schools also see room for improvement, especially in science. Many schools received lower ratings in science than across other subjects.
Both Downing and Talley said that is likely because science SOLs are cumulative, meaning for grades 5 and 8, they are taken in the third year. Students were not in school to learn much of the material for the tests.
“That’s a cumulative test, and some of the students really did not have significant science instruction during that time, and so we’ve stepped that up and we’ll increase the hours for science,” Talley said.
Downing outlined some of the steps being taken to improve these science scores.
“We are reworking and restructuring the way we teach science. We’ve also increased time in our master schedules for science instruction at the elementary level,” she said. “We’ve been working a lot with professional development with our teachers on more of a hands-on, inquiry-based model of exploring scientific concepts. So, we’re really restructuring the way we teach science.”
Another area the city schools are looking to improve is attendance, especially at the high school level. Downing said many students became employed during the pandemic, and getting some of them back in the classroom consistently has been difficult.
“Chronic absenteeism was a big issue last year. It’s hard getting students back in school on a consistent basis,” she said.
Talley said he is proud of the quality of education in Virginia and what it brings to the state, and he hopes Martinsville schools will continue producing well-educated students.
“I’m proud to be involved in education in Virginia, because one of the drawing points for industry and business here is our education. Our students get a tremendous education, and you can find that on any variable in any study of why businesses seem to locate here. We’re always one of the top states in terms of attracting businesses,” Talley said.
“Here in Martinsville, we want to make sure that our students offer businesses good students and also that our students have an opportunity to be useful citizens in higher education as well as industry,” he added.