After the recent release of Standards of Learning (SOL) scores across the commonwealth, Lynchburg City School officials have rolled out a plan to improve academic achievement in light of the school division’s passing rates.
Here are where the scores stand over the past three testing years at Lynchburg City Schools, according to Virginia Department of Education data:
2021-22 pass rates: reading, 63%; writing, 49%; math, 50%; history, 57%; science, 55%
2020-21 rates: reading, 60%; writing, 46%; math, 36%; history, 49%; sciences, 46%
2018-19 rates: reading, 69%; writing, 59%; math, 73%; history, 70%; sciences, 70%
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While scores improved in each of the five testing categories, scores still lag behind pre-pandemic passing rates, showing some form of learning loss still exists in the division.
Tuesday night, Superintendent Crystal Edwards said her administration is ready to move on from the term “learning loss” and will move into “learning recovery” as officials try to make up for what was lost during the height of the pandemic.
Edwards and Sam Coleman, the division’s chief academic officer, presented to the board five strategies for closing the achievement gap they said exists in the division for economically disadvantaged and Black students. Those include: strategic use of data; increasing quality instructional coaching and professional development; aligning effective instructional strategies; fostering collaboration across curriculum and instruction, student services, special education and IT departments; and strategic resource allocation.
According to the presentation, economically disadvantaged students lag about nine percentage points behind the test scores of all students in LCS in reading, coming in at 54%, and 11 percentage points behind the test scores of all LCS students in math, with a 39% passing rate.
Coleman’s presentation also showed Black students lagged 14 percentage points behind the passing rate of all students in reading, at 49%, and lagged 15 percentage points behind the passing rate of all students in math, coming in at 35%.
However, Edwards and Coleman pointed out the positives side of those stats, showing the pass rate of economically disadvantaged students increased 19 percentage points in math from 20% in 2020-21 to 39% in 2021-22.
Additionally, they pointed out the pass rate for Black students in math increased 18 percentage points over the 2020-21 scores, from 17% passing to 35% passing.
Those two increases surpass the increase among all students in math, which was only a 14 percentage point increase, bouncing back from 36% to 50%.
After presenting the data, Coleman said “two things can be true at the same time,” when it comes to looking at the scores.
“While we celebrate the growth in results we have made,” Coleman said, “we don’t ignore or dismiss the reality that we have worthy goals left for us to reach.
“We’re doing the work we want to see. Our teachers are doing the work. Our students are doing the work. Our parents are doing the work. And this just isn’t ‘work’ in air quotes, this is personal.”
Coleman reiterated the division has work to do in bringing up scores, and said it is approaching the situation with “unwavering belief and a commitment in what is possible.”
“We don’t get on this track and run this track thinking that this is impossible work,” Coleman said. “There are a lot of people who show up to places doing work without the belief that the work is going to produce a result, but that is not the case for our teachers and students here at LCS.”
With the five strategies in place, Coleman said, it isn’t going to be an overnight process to see better results.
“This is a marathon ... this is not sprint work, this is not quick work, there is no shortcut to this, this is marathon work that we’re talking about. And this is the work we’re committed to for the long run, for the marathon, to achieve the worthy cause and the worthy goals that we set for our students,” Coleman said.
Dr. Bob Brennan, vice chair of the LCS board, agreed with Coleman, saying the “achievement gap has been with us for a long time and it’s going to take a long time to fix. And unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic came along and took what was a smoldering fire and threw gas on it and made it into a forest fire. It’s been a disaster as far as the outcome goes.”
Brennan also pointed out comparing LCS scores against local county scores might not be a fair benchmark, as LCS is more of an urban school district than a rural one.
“If you do compare us on the numbers that are out there now to similar districts such as Roanoke City, Charlottesville, Winchester, you’ll actually see that our numbers are pretty equivalent to what they have. And the same challenge they have are with those economically disadvantaged and living in poverty.
“We need to remember that our bar is certainly different from surrounding counties’ bars and be aware of that,” Brennan said.
Edwards thanked her students for their hard work during the last school year coming back from a pandemic, citing improvement all across the board in SOL scores, while still acknowledging the division is “not pleased” with the 2021-22 scores.
“We know children are more than the sum of what they did one day when they performed. That there are many things that factor into their performance and there are many things that happen before they get to school that factor into that performance,” Edwards said.