The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) recently released the accreditation ratings for the 2022-2023 school year, which showed all Patrick County schools were reaccredited.
Schools Superintendent Jason Wood said accreditation is the state’s process of determining performance levels in individual schools by using rankings of accredited, accredited with warning, or not accredited.
“That is the way they kind of base the effectiveness of schools. We are, and continue to be, fully accredited,” he said.
Wood said the school division also attained Level 1, the highest ranking possible, across all of its scores.
If the scores dropped, “those would change into a Level 2 or a Level 3. If you have a Level 3 in any category, you become accredited with warning,” he said.
Wood said the VDOE determines a division’s ranking by looking at its attendance rate, graduation rate and combined Standards of Learning (SOL) scores, retakes, and student growth.
“If you have a student who failed a previous year but showed substantial growth moving towards a passing score, then you get additional accreditation, I guess, averaged in to get the new combined rate,” he said.
While he noted the 2022 Virginia SOL results paint “a dreary picture for much of the Commonwealth,” Wood said this is not the case locally, with the Patrick division ranking 7th in the state on SOL performance.
The division’s 2021-22 pass rates also exceeded the average state pass rates in all subject areas. In English, 85 percent of Patrick students passed compared to the state’s average of 73 percent.
In Writing, local schools’ rate of 72 percent was seven points higher than state average, and for Math, Science, and History, the division outperformed the state average by at least 13 points.
Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Andrea Cassell noted the division surpassed many of the surrounding school divisions by 20 to 30 points.
While Patrick schools typically do well in the rankings, Wood said he was surprised by the results considering the division was under COVID-19 restrictions for most of the year.
“We were very pleased with not only being ranked 7th in the state, but also our students’ ability to get back to pre-pandemic levels so quicky. It’s just a testament to the caliber of students we have in Patrick County and the support we get from parents, and also just the dedicated instructional and support staff we have.
“It’s truly a great place to raise a family and to have students receive a top of the level education here in rural Patrick County,” he said, adding the division previously ranked as high as 5th in the state in a non-pandemic year.
Wood said he believes local educators and staff go into a school year with the opinion that maintaining accreditation is the minimum expectation.
“It is difficult for school systems to maintain this level of excellence that we have in Patrick County. It is the expectation, and our students rise to that expectation and so does our staff,” he said.
While the division is pleased with its performance, Cassell said there is always room for growth.
“When we look at where we stand based on pre-pandemic results, and we feel that we’re really regained some of the learning loss that was there, certainly there is still room for growth,” she said.
Moving forward, Cassell said the school system plans to focus on addressing specific student needs at school and offer the individualized help that is needed.
We want to look “at small group instruction within the school, meet students where they are, and provide the needed individualized and small group attention,” she said.
Cassell said the division also implemented curriculum structures in its elementary schools to meet the reading and math demands from the federal level.
“The state is leaning very much toward the science of reading. Within the next couple of years, the state is mandating that school divisions really implement a curriculum that is based on it,” she said.
In addition to focusing on where students are in phonemic awareness, Cassell said the science of reading curriculum lends itself to creating and using small group instruction.
“We’re able to group students so they’re getting the specific skills they need to be successful readers, and we know that being successful readers is going to impact every subject area,” she said.
One area the school system hopes to improve is attendance. Cassell said letting students and families know the importance of being in school and receiving an education is one way to meet that goal.
“We very much always focus on meeting early with students who might be displaying areas of concern relating to attendance, and of course the state does mandate that we follow certain procedures for attendance,” she said.
Cassell said there’s a focus on holding attendance conferences because she knows “if a student is in school, that’s where we’re going to be able to close those learning gaps.”
The graduation rate is an area that could be improved.
Cassell said the division is fortunate to know students on an individual basis because it allows teachers and staff to meet as teams to look at each student.
“We try to look for ways that we can help or think to intervene in situations that might make them more successful or more likely to graduate,” she said.