Richmond County Public Schools received full state accreditation for the 2013-2014 school year, school officials shared Wednesday.
After the Richmond County School Board held its regular meeting last month, the state released accreditation ratings showing that Richmond County was one of only two school divisions on the Northern Neck to achieve the high standard.
“All three of our schools are fully accredited, which is wonderful,” said Assistant Superintendent Sarah Schmidt. “We were hopeful and expecting that was going to be the case.”
In the last academic year, all but one school in the Northern Neck and Essex County had full accreditation.
According to information from the Virginia Dept. of Education (VDOE), the number of warned schools jumped dramatically from 99 for the 2012-2013 school year to 395. Schools in Colonial Beach and in Essex, Westmoreland and Lancaster counties were among those to lose the full state accreditation they had last year.
School accreditation ratings reflect student achievement on the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) tests and other assessments in English, social studies, math and science.
In order for a school to be fully accredited, 75 percent of its students must pass English benchmarks and 70 percent must pass benchmarks in the other core subjects. An 85 percent graduation rate is also required of the high schools.
If a school does not meet the benchmark for the past academic year, then its accreditation rests on the students’ passing rate average over the past three years.
Richmond County Public Schools is the only school division in the Northern Neck to achieve full accreditation based on student performance in the 2012-2013 school year.
While all of Northumberland County schools were fully accredited, less than 70 percent of students at the elementary and middle schools passed English last year. Both schools, therefore, received accreditation based on a 70-plus percent average of students passing subject benchmarks over the last three years. Northumberland High School also met accreditation based on students’ three-year-average passing rate in mathematics.
In Westmoreland County, two schools, Washington District Elementary and Montross Middle School, received full accreditation based on their three-year average results in English and mathematics.
Cople Elementary and Washington and Lee High School, however, were warned in math with a passing rate of 67 percent per three years.
All schools in Colonial Beach and Lancaster County were warned in math.
Lancaster Middle School in particular did not meet the accreditation benchmarks in any of the core subjects.
Outside of the Northern Neck, the only school to receive full accreditation in Essex County was Tappahannock Elementary School.
Essex High and Essex Intermediate were both warned in math this year, with Essex High retaining its accreditation with warning status from last year.
Schmidt and Superintendent Greg Smith said that new SOL tests had been released in English and science for the 2012-2013 school year. New tests in math and social studies were released the year before.
Sample questions received from Schmidt showed that the new math and English tests include less multiple-choice answers than before and involve more web-based interaction from students such as having them plot a point along a grid or arrange the order of events within a flow chart.
In related news, the Richmond County School Board adopted a resolution that speaks to limiting high stakes standardized testing, which includes the SOLs, per Smith’s recommendation.
“There’s a lot that goes into measuring how students achieve and how schools function,” said Smith. “A single test over a period of time is not always the best indicator for that.
“I do believe in certain standards, I do believe in accountability and I think those are very important concepts that we have to consider and follow,” Smith added. “But to really place consequences for schools, students and their families into the mix…we are heading in the wrong direction.”
In other news, Smith said that the school division’s percentage of spending that directly supports the classrooms was 65.4 percent, the highest of all school divisions in the Northern Neck and Essex County.
“If you follow the legislation from year to year, there’s usually a proposed change in the Code of Virginia which would require all school expenditures to exceed or to meet 65 percent of the expenditures going into the classroom or instruction,” said Smith.
According to school division report cards from the VDOE website, Northumberland spent 62.8 percent of its expenditures on instruction, followed by Essex with 62.3 percent, Lancaster with 62 percent, Westmoreland with 58.6 percent and Colonial Beach with 51.9 percent.
Additionally, all high schools in the area met or exceeded an 85 percent graduation rate last school year.
According to school report cards from VDOE, Lancaster High had the highest graduation/completion index at 97 percent, followed by Essex High with 90 percent Northumberland High with 89 percent, Rappahannock High with 88 percent, Colonial Beach High with 87 percent and Washington and Lee High with 85 percent.
For more information on accreditation and area schools’ performance, visit https://p1pe.doe.virginia.gov/reportcard/.