Two schools gain full accreditation

Published 8:52 pm Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Suffolk Public Schools’ accreditation status improved this year, with only seven or eight schools not fully accredited compared to 10 last year.

Hillpoint Elementary School and Lakeland High School improved their performance on state standardized tests and other measures enough to be fully accredited, according to results released Tuesday by the Virginia Department of Education. The status of King’s Fork High School remains to be determined.

The schools that remain only partially accredited are Booker T. Washington, Elephant’s Fork, Mack Benn Jr. and Nansemond Parkway elementary schools and Forest Glen, John F. Kennedy and King’s Fork middle schools.

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New this year, the state differentiated between schools that were making improvements toward being accredited. Elephant’s Fork, Mack Benn Jr. and Nansemond Parkway were those that are improving, according to the state.

Elephant’s Fork Elementary is now identified by the state as a “focus school,” which must employ state-approved school-improvement coaches. Focus schools are the bottom 10 percent of Title I schools selected on the basis of achievement gaps.

Division-wide pass rates that improved between 2 and 8 percentage points in reading, writing, history and math while declining only 1 percentage point in science drove the results.

Suffolk School Superintendent Deran Whitney said in August, when the preliminary results were announced, that he thinks teachers were more focused this year on ensuring they were teaching what they were supposed to be teaching. Students are better aware now that they need not only to recall information but also to be able to apply it to a question or problem, Whitney added.

The 2014-2015 school year was the first during which students in grades 3-8 were allowed to retake tests in reading, math, science and history. On average, the performance of students statewide on retakes increased average pass rates by about four points on each test, according to a press release from the Virginia Department of Education.

Whitney believes the retakes had a significant effect on Suffolk’s pass rates.

“You have to be very careful about using one test on one day to judge students, schools or districts,” he said in August. Students who fell just short received additional instruction in problem areas and then were able to retake the test quickly.

Seventy-eight percent, or 1,414, of Virginia’s 1,823 public schools are rated as fully accredited for the 2015-2016 school year, based on the performance of students on Standards of Learning tests in English, mathematics, science and history during 2014-2015. This represents a 10-point improvement over 2014-2015, when only 68 percent of schools were fully accredited.

For a school to earn full accreditation, students must achieve adjusted pass rates of at least 75 percent on English reading and writing SOL tests, and of at least 70 percent on assessments in mathematics, science and history. High schools must also meet a benchmark for graduation and completion. Accreditation ratings may also reflect an average of achievement over several years.