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The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) announced on Tuesday, August 20, 2013, the official pass rates for the Virginia Standards of Learning tests that took place during the 2012-2013 school year.
Like the state, Norfolk showed gains in most levels of math, and declines in areas in which the state had introduced new tests last school year.
The VDOE had predicted sharp declines in pass rates statewide due to new, more rigorous tests in science, reading and writing, following similar statewide dips in student performance on a new math test in 2011-2012.
NPS pass rates in math rebounded significantly at almost every level. Districtwide, NPS also saw gains in most levels of social studies, and exceeded state benchmarks for high school science courses Earth Science, Biology and Chemistry.
School Board Chairman Dr. Kirk T. Houston, Sr., and Superintendent Dr. Samuel T. King said the results highlight the urgency for action steps already introduced during Dr. King’s first year as Superintendent, and contained in NPS’ new five-year Strategic Plan, which was adopted by the Board in July and is in the first phase of implementation.
“We are not who we want to be,” Dr. King told principals as he reviewed the results with them during an Instructional Leadership training session Tuesday morning. “We are not who we can be, and we are not who we will be.”
“We are about change, but we’re about change that is aligned to what we know will get results for student achievement.”
Although the VDOE will not release official accreditation results until September, Dr. King has projected that more Norfolk schools will be accredited with warning due to the performance on the new tests and to an increase in the state benchmarks in grade 3 science and history.
In a news release Tuesday, State Superintendent for Public Instruction Dr. Patricia Wright said, "Even with three-year averaging mitigating the impact of the new tests, we will see some schools slip from Fully Accredited to Accredited with Warning. I hope parents will view these accreditation changes in the context of the state raising standards so that their children — regardless of where they live — will be better prepared for the challenges of postsecondary education and the realities of global competition."
In Norfolk, ensuring that students maximize their academic potential, develop skills for lifelong learning and become successful contributors to a global society is the mission of the new five-year Strategic Plan, which took a year to develop and involved hundreds of community and school division participants.
Dr. King also has introduced a mandatory “Cycle for Results” for classroom instruction in NPS. The six-step cycle requires teachers and principals to implement the state curriculum; accurately assess students’ mastery of the standards using tests that are properly aligned to the curriculum; and then provide safety nets for students who have not mastered standards, or enrichment for students who have met or exceeded standards. The intent of the process is to develop and support highly effective teachers and principals.
To support students’ demonstrated need for improvements in literacy and math, reading and math specialists are being added at every elementary and middle school for the coming school year.
“We appreciate the innovative thinking and sense of urgency Dr. King is bringing to the question of how to transform our entire school division,” said Board Chairman Dr. Houston.
While those items are among the districtwide plans for improvement, Dr. King also has proposed a Transformation Initiative to bring high-quality curricular programs such as International Baccalaureate and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), plus academic calendar flexibility, to 10 schools that have been consistently challenged with student achievement. The Transformation Initiative is a proposal at this time; the School Board has given Dr. King authorization to proceed with communications and development of more detailed plans for the Board’s review this fall.
A component of the transformation is a proposal for a new Open Campus secondary school, being developed under the leadership of Deputy Superintendent for Operations and Governmental Relations Dr. L’Tanya Simmons.
“This non-traditional concept provides us with an effective, research-based approach to decreasing the number of students who drop out or do not graduate on time, and decreasing the number of students who are overage for their grade level,” Dr. Simmons said.
In reviewing the Strategic Plan once again with school division administrators, Dr. Linda Sevigny, Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, said, "We have laid a very strong foundation. Last year was for laying that foundation, for looking at the good, the bad and the ugly and determining who we are and what we want to become. This year is for building. I am really excited about where we are going."
During 2012-2013, Dr. King and his team analyzed the entire Norfolk Public Schools instructional program, commissioned an audit by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, and reviewed the conclusions of a study by the Council of the Great City Schools.
The evidence pointed to NPS having significant gaps in its implementation of the new science, reading and writing curriculum standards adopted by the state in 2010, and new math standards in 2009. NPS’ quarterly benchmark tests, which Dr. King’s team revised last fall to align with the state standards and to give a more realistic picture of students’ preparation for the SOL tests, showed the disconnect as well.
New SOL tests assesses mastery of the Standards of Learning by presenting students with problem-solving questions and scenarios to solve versus simply answering base-level knowledge questions.
The Strategic Plan and other improvements in Teaching and Learning are designed to begin an upward trend for student achievement.