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Mecklenburg County schools make gains, earn across-the-board state accreditation / August 21, 2019

Mecklenburg County’s eight schools have been fully accredited by the Virginia Department of Education after students performed up to standard in the round of SOL tests administered in the 2018-19 school year.

Local schools scored successes on a number of fronts, with Clarksville Elementary and Park View High School each meeting or surpassing the state average on nine quality indicators, ranging from test scores by student sub-groups to the schools’ ability to stem chronic absenteeism and prepare students for career and civic readiness.

On one downbeat note, county students taking AP (advance placement) classes are struggling when it comes to achieving end-of-course test scores that could earn them college credits. That’s according to the data issued by the Department of Education last week, the results of which were shared with School Board trustees at their monthly meeting Monday night in Boydton.

Among the positive results for county schools:

» Math scores by all students at Chase City Elementary, Clarksville Elementary, Bluestone and Park View Middle, and Bluestone and Park View High improved between 4 and 10 percent, with the greatest gains posted by students at Bluestone Middle School. Science scores at Clarksville Elementary, South Hill Elementary and La Crosse Elementary jumped by between 4-8 percent, with South Hill Elementary students showing the most progress.

» At-risk Mecklenburg County students made the greatest gains in SOL test performance among the 15 school divisions participating in a Department of Education collaborative to improve student achievement. Credit for the gains is being attributed to 23 county teachers who were assigned most at-risk students.

Megan Hendrick, director of testing for Mecklenburg County Public Schools, told School Board members on Monday that half of these at-risk students are classified as either economically disadvantaged or SWD (students with disabilities). While Hendrick did not name the top performing teachers, she noted that the mix included were nine teachers in math, one in civics, eight in reading, four in science and one who teaches earth science.

Eleven of the teachers worked at Park View Middle School, five at South Hill Elementary, two each at Park View High School, Bluestone High School and Bluestone Middle School, and one each at Clarksville Elementary School and Chase City Elementary School.

The Department of Education recognized two county schools for gains made on SOL test scores by students with disabilities. South Hill Elementary’s SOL pass rate for English among students with disabilities jumped 24 percent — going from a pass rate of 40.63 percent during the 2017/2018 school year to 64.52 percent during the 2018/2019 school year, the last year for which there are test results.

Park View High School’s SOL pass rate for math among students with disabilities jumped 26.6 percent — rising from 38.3 percent during the 2017/2018 school year to a pass rate of 64.9 percent during the 2018/2019 school year.

Despite this good news, there are a few areas where Mecklenburg schools need improvement. GAP students — those with disabilities, who are economically disadvantaged or who are African American — are among those who did not meet the pass rate benchmark of 75 percent for English at Chase City, La Crosse or South Hill elementaries, or at Bluestone and Park View Middle Schools. Students with disabilities did not meet the benchmark pass rate for English at Bluestone High.

Economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities at Bluestone High School also did not meet the pass rate benchmark of 70 percent for math.

Bluestone also suffered a rising dropout rate, going 5 percent in 2017/2018 to nearly 10.5 percent in 2018/2019, and a chronic absenteeism rate of nearly 34 percent, more than double the state’s benchmark of 15 percent.

While Bluestone High School is fully accredited for the current school year, it faces the loss of that status if the school cannot show improvement in its SOL scores among GAP students, or in its dropout and chronic absenteeism rates.

School Board vice chairman Gavin Honeycutt wondered what steps are being taken to address the chronic absenteeism at Bluestone High School. Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols responded that school administrators have been asked to investigate the matter.

Overall, said Hendrick, Mecklenburg County Public Schools is outperforming most other Region 8 divisions on the metrics used by the Department of Education to determine accreditation status. Other performance measures include results from writing, reading, math, science and history SOL tests, chronic absenteeism rates, graduation and completion index, dropout rates and college, career and civic readiness.

Region 8 is comprised of Amelia, Appomattox, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Greensville, Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway and Prince Edward school divisions.

For the most part, students taking AP tests in English language and composition and U.S. history at Bluestone High School and Park View High School failed to score a passing grade of “3” or above.

Of the 19 students at Bluestone who took the English AP exam, seven received a score of 1, 11 received a score of 2 and one earned a score of 3. Both Bluestone students who took the U.S. history AP exam earned a score of 1.

At Park View, of the six students who took the AP exam, two scored a 1, three scored a 2 and one scored a 3. Among those taking the U.S. history exam, there were three scores of 1, two scores of 2 and one score of 3.

The statewide average of students who earn a score of 3 or above on these AP exams is between 64 and 64.5 percent. The average for students in Mecklenburg County who earned a score of 3 or above ranged from a low of 0 percent for students taking the history exam at Bluestone, to 33.3 percent by students taking the AP history exam at Park View.

The one outstanding area of performance was among students taking the statistics AP exam at Park View High School. Three out of four students earned a score of 3 or above, compared to 59 percent at the state level. One student earned a score of one.

Nichols acknowledged that the number of students in Mecklenburg County who took AP tests during the prior school year was not high and the passage rate was extremely low. But, he added, this does not mean the students did not pass the class —only that they did not master the rigor expected of students taking college level courses.

Nichols acknowledged that additional work needs to take place to improve student performance on these tests, particularly since it is becoming more difficult to find qualified Dual Enrollment teachers, and AP classes are one alternative for academically advanced students who wish to pursue more demanding course work while in high school.

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