By Taylor Boyd
Despite a significant drop in Standards of Learning (SOL) scores in the county and the state, students in the Patrick County school system scored better than the state average on most subjects, according to the state assessment data released by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).
Statewide, students who took the federally mandated SOL tests for the 2020-2021 school year underperformed in all subjects, reflecting the challenges facing schools, teachers, and students during the COVID-19 health crisis.
The SOL tests were cancelled for the 2019-2020 school year due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Virginia, mathematics and science scores dropped the most dramatically, with a 54 percent pass rate on the math SOL while 59 percent of students passed the science SOL.
During the 2018-2019 school year, the last year the tests were taken, students had a pass rate of 82 percent in math and 81 percent in science. In English: Reading, the pass rate dropped to 69 percent from 78 percent.
Patrick County had a 77 percent pass rate in English: Reading, down from the 83 percent pass rate the schools had the last time the SOLs were taken. Stuart Elementary School saw the smallest decline in scores, with a drop from 88.57 percent to 80.89 percent. Every other school in the county had a passing rate of at least 70 percent.
The county’s pass rate in science dropped from 83 percent to 64 percent. Blue Ridge Elementary School, Hardin Reynolds Memorial School, and Woolwine Elementary School had the most significant score drops.
Blue Ridge’s score dropped from 97.06 percent to 46.67 percent, which is also the biggest passing score drop in the county. Hardin Reynolds’ pass rate fell to 46.30 percent from 86.96 percent, and Woolwine’s rate fell to 50 percent from 89.66 percent.
The math scores fell most dramatically for the county, with a 69 percent pass rate.
During the 2018-2019 school year, the county’s pass rate was 92 percent, 10 percent higher than the state average. Patrick Springs Elementary School had the lowest passing score, with 56.60 percent and Stuart Elementary had the highest, with 75.11.
Schools Superintendent Dean Gilbert said he was pleased the division did as well as it did, considering the challenges students faced with remote learning and hybrid education plans.
“We’re going to have some work to do just like every other school division in the country is going to do to address unfinished learning and get these students back up to where we’re accustomed to seeing Patrick County and their test scores at,” he said.
Gilbert said the school system started addressing the learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic this summer with a four-week in-person summer school.
“We did see some good gains for students who did attend,” he said.
The division also plans to hold summer school for the next two or three summers to further help students and has received relief money to fund the summer sessions. Gilbert said the schools are also preparing to start after-school tutoring earlier than normal to help students catch up academically once the current COVID-19 surge is managed.
“We’re feeling like here in the year or two, we’re going to be back right to where we were before all of this started,” he said.
There was a statewide decrease in the number of students who took the SOLs. In a typical year, around 99 percent of all eligible students would take the tests, but in 2021, 75.5 percent of students took the English: Reading test, 78.7 percent took math, and 80 percent took science.
Gilbert said Patrick County had a higher participation than the state average as 98.25 percent of students took the math SOL, 98.43 percent took science, and 98.35 took English: Reading.
At the Sept. 9 meeting, Dr. J. David Martin was named Acting Superintendent after a unanimous vote.
Martin, who previously served in this position during the 2019-2020 school year, will serve in the position from October 1 until December 31.
“I have a great love of Patrick County. The people here are very genuine, and the kids here are phenomenal,” he said.
The meeting also marked Gilbert’s final one at the helm.
“It has been a privilege to work with our great educators throughout the school division. I appreciate the board’s confidence in appointment me Superintendent and the community support of our great school system,” Gilbert said.
Walter Scott, vice-chairman of the board and of the Smith River District, said Gilbert helped the school division through some hard times over the last two years.
“He really helped the school system get though a big problem, and I really do hate to see him leave. However, I think he left the school in good hands,” he said.
Shannon Harrell, of the Blue Ridge District, said, “I could remember being a student and you being the assistant principal. Thank you for every capacity you held, not just the past two years, and for what you did for the school system, the students, and for the community.”
“You’re a good man, Dean. I think had it not been for your years of experience and your knowledge of the innerworkings of the school division, it would have been really hard to continue on through the pandemic and everything,” Ryan Lawson, of the Peters Creek District, said.
Brandon Simmons, chairman of the board and of the Dan River District, said, “I’m going to miss you and the job that you did. I hope you all the best and enjoy your retirement.”
In other matters, the board:
*Heard that the school system is continuing to encounter COVID-19 cases in all the schools. While most of the cases are not transmitted at schools, there is some evidence to suggest that some transmission occurred at school, Gilbert said.
“While the numbers look high, we still feel our mitigation strategies are working for the most part,” he said, adding the division continues to adjust the plan as the situation changes and new information is released.
Gilbert said he attended a conference call with the West Piedmont Health Director, during which “the statement made to us was that the students were safer at school due to our efforts than being out in the general public.”
The director also advised that students should continue to attend classes as long as the division has enough staff available. Schools are mandated to provide 180 days of in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year.
“We are allowed to use up to 10 virtual learning days in the event of inclement weather or a switch to remote learning. This is applicable on a per school basis,” Gilbert said.
*Approved the consent agenda.
*Approved the policy update.
*Approved the auction of surplus items later this year.
*Approved personnel as amended.
*Approved the religious exemptions.