Minorities lagging on SOLs

Published 9:44 pm Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Minority public school students in Suffolk and elsewhere continue to lag behind peers from other groups, Standards of Learning performance figures released by the Virginia Department of Education Wednesday show.

In the Suffolk district, 57 percent of black students met math benchmarks, against 52 percent in that subgroup statewide.

Among other minority groups in Suffolk, 78 percent of Hispanics, 31 percent of disabled students, 54 percent of economically disadvantaged students, 72 percent of students with limited English, and 92 percent of Asians attained math benchmarks.

Email newsletter signup

Excepting disabled students, those results either outperformed or equaled respective statewide percentages.

Seventy-five percent of white Suffolk students met math benchmarks, equaling the statewide result.

In a statement, District Deputy Superintendent Jacqueline Chavis said, “Suffolk Public Schools has always recognized the importance of closing achievement gaps, and works diligently to make sure that every student meets academic success.”

Each year, schools submit improvement plans with strategies to address students who are not meeting benchmarks, she stated.

“School improvement teams include teachers, administrators and parents who develop and implement [school improvement plan] strategies,” Chavis continued.

“Individual students who need assistance might be provided additional small group instruction, one-on-one instruction, after-school remediation, and summer school to improve their academic success. Progress is tracked throughout the school year through local assessments and other teacher-monitoring tools.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright says the figures show the start of a new trend line in math achievement.

“What matters now is where we go from here,” she stated in a press release. “At the state level, we must set aggressive but attainable annual objectives for narrowing and ultimately closing these achievement gaps.

“At the local level, instructional leaders must make sure that teaching in the classroom is aligned with the new standards.”

Math pass rates for all subgroups were considerably lower in 2011-2012 than in the previous school year, after assessments for the first time used a computer-based format requiring greater critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

“The focus must shift from ‘test prep’ to increasing the ability of students to apply their knowledge of mathematics and solve multi-step problems,” Wright continued.

For English reading, science and history, pass rates for Suffolk minority groups mostly outperformed statewide percentages, although the district’s disabled students, as in math, lagged behind.

Under a No Child Left Behind waiver granted to Virginia in July, the state board set annual benchmarks, which differ between subgroups, toward reducing the failure rate in reading and math by 50 percent within six years.

Without the waiver, all students would have been required to meet grade-level proficiency in the subjects by 2014, for Title I schools to continue receiving funding through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

Eight of Suffolk’s 12 public elementary schools — Booker T. Washington, Creekside, Elephant’s Fork, Hillpoint, Kilby Shores, Mack Benn Jr., Nansemond Parkway and Southwestern — receive Title I funding, which is determined by a minimum percentage of low-income children.

Under the waiver, the department will identify low-performing schools as “priority” and “focus” schools and high-performing schools as “reward” schools.

Focus schools will be selected according to three “proficiency gap groups,” with 10 percent of Virginia’s Title I schools becoming focus schools.

Priority and focus schools will have interventions, which already occur in schools that have failed to meet NCLB benchmarks.

Schools, however, will be free from so-called improvement sanctions mandated by NCLB.

Meanwhile, after black leaders criticized the lower benchmarks for minorities and other groups, the state Board of Education has said it will reconsider that policy in September.