City, County schools’ SOL scores fall

EDUCATION BEAT

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A teacher talks to students during an auto repair course on the first day of school at CATEC. Photo: Tim Shea. A teacher talks to students during an auto repair course on the first day of school at CATEC. Photo: Tim Shea.

Our regular Education Beat reporting is the result of a partnership with the nonprofit community news platform Charlottesville Tomorrow, which covers growth, development, public education, and local politics. 

Both Charlottesville and Albemarle schools saw pass rates drop on Standards of Learning exams in English and science, according to reports from the Virginia Department of Education.

Albemarle County students’ reading pass rate fell from 90 percent last year to 78 percent this year, while their writing pass rate went from 91 to 82 percent. Among Charlottesville students, reading pass rates dipped from 86 to 71 percent and writing from 81 to 68 percent.

Science pass rates declined from 92 to 84 percent in Albemarle and 87 to 76 percent in Charlottesville.

State and local education officials said they expected the declines due to changes in test format and rigor. The most significant change, Albemarle Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun said, is the change from test questions having a single correct answer, to possibly having two, three, or four right answers, all of which must be selected. Haun said that it usually takes two to three years to see pass rates rebound after changes.

Updates to the the social studies and math SOLs took place in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years. This year, math pass rates registered 75 percent in Albemarle and 69 in Charlottesville, and social studies pass rates for both local divisions held steady in the mid- to upper-80s.

CATEC board funds firefighter training

CATEC’s firefighting course will live for another year, thanks to the technical education center’s Board of Directors, which voted last week to fund the class.

The Charlottesville Fire Department has supported the approximately $21,000 per year part-time instructor position in the past, but cut the funding for the coming year. The Fire Department will, however, continue to support the program by donating equipment and offering training in areas such as hazardous materials cleanup, amongst others.

School officials said that due to English and pharmacy technician staff, CATEC can absorb the cost for the coming year. Moving forward, the Board will include the firefighting program into its regular evaluation of programs, a step CATEC didn’t have to take when the program was funded externally, CATEC Director Adam Hastings said.

During the course, which has an anticipated enrollment of 15 for the fall semester, students are introduced to equipment use, as well as live firefighting and search-and-rescue procedures.

Walton implements improvement measures

Walton Middle School Principal Alison Dwier-Selden last week told the Albemarle County School Board that after a summer of focused effort, Walton is headed in the right direction. The report is the result of complaints about discipline, school leadership, and educational quality.

“My work is to preserve what’s going well at Walton, and take care of the things that need to be improved,” Dwier-Selden said.

The principal divided her efforts between academics, discipline, and communication.

To address parent and student frustration with a repetition of electives, Dwier-Selden said, staff worked with students and parents over the summer to place students in their first-choice electives—a move she said reduced the number of schedule changes in the first week of school. Additionally, staff split sixth-grade language arts into standard and advanced sections to mirror the seventh- and eighth-grade structures.

Walton staff also developed a student code of conduct in response to complaints about unclear discipline procedures and consequences. Staff published the code on the school’s website, shared it with students, and sent it home to parents.

Aimed at improving communication with both students and parents, the principal said she will be e-mailing all parents each Friday and will be holding regular lunch meetings with students to gather feedback.

“Part of our job at the central office level is making sure we’re working in a continuous improvement role,” Albemarle Superintendent Pam Moran said. “We go in and do a full assessment. Walton is a great example of us looking at the full picture.”

Susan Northington.

MEET YOUR EDUCATOR: Susan Northington, 3rd Grade Teacher, Jackson-Via Elementary School

Q: What has your classroom experience taught you that studying education could not have prepared you for?

A: Education cannot prepare you for what each student brings with them each day to school–the good and the bad. Knowing how to adjust your daily plan to these situations is what classroom experience teaches you.

Q: What teaching adjustments do you plan to make moving forward?

A: I will continue to build my relationships with my students and their parents. Our technology tools allow more instantaneous feedback than in the past and this helps with those relationships.

Q: In your eyes, what is the biggest challenge facing education currently?

A: I believe that keeping the students focused on using education as a tool to better themselves is, and has been, a big challenge. Engaging the student on a daily basis can be taxing, but simply must be done to enable the student’s long-term success.

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