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State had past concerns about SOL testing at A.P. Hill

Posted at 10:57 PM, Aug 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-09 10:04:48-04

PETERSBURG, Va. -- While frying chicken legs and simmering cabbage, Tracy Owens shared her disappointment about recent events at her grandson's elementary school, which also happens to be her alma mater, A.P. Hill Elementary School.

"I just pray they will find a way to get this cleared up," Owens said.

Petersburg City Public Schools announced last month that they had let several employees go after finding evidence that SOL testing procedures were violated in the spring.

"I'm sorry they found that truth to be self-evident," Owens said.

Tracy Owens

The news surprised many like Owens because A.P. Hill was the poster child for a successful year-round school program.

The program began back in the fall of 2014 after the school was denied accreditation for the second year in a row.

The state poured hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars into the school, and it seemed to be working.

A.P Hill students made massive gains in SOL scores over the past three years, and even Governor Terry McAuliffe touted the school's accomplishments.

CBS 6 found their reading scores jumped more than 40 points between 2012 and 2016, and their math scores skyrocketed nearly 60 points in that same time period.

The Virginia Board of Education even invited their principal, Kori Reddick, to speak before their accountability committee and share her powerful story of improvement.

"I started at AP Hill in 2013," Reddick said in a video of the meeting on the Virginia Department of Education's website. "I had to make some hard decisions, and I had to move some people around."

But the CBS 6 Problem Solvers uncovered an SOL testing irregularity investigation at A.P. Hill that was launched in July of 2015, which is when the scores started jumping.

A teacher alleged that another teacher was helping students during the SOL.

Although the school system found the allegations unfounded, the state had concerns.

"There were some practices that concerned the department, and we requested Petersburg address those practices with a corrective action plan," Charles Pyle, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Education, said.

Pyle said the state also took note of the dramatic jump in SOL scores.

"When the state sees something like that does it raise a red flag?" CBS 6 Problem Solver investigator Melissa Hipolit asked Pyle.

"When we see a sudden and sharp increase in performance on the SOL tests we take a close look for a couple of reasons... for one thing we want to see if there might be some practices in that school that might be of benefit in similar schools... and of course we want to make sure there are no improprieties or irregularities with how the assessments are being administered," Pyle responded.

He said the state audited testing and conducted unannounced visits, but it did not find any violations.

The state is still investigating the latest allegations of SOL cheating.

"I just hope everything works itself out," Owens said.

Owens said her grandson seemed to be doing well at A.P. Hill, but now she's questioning what has been going on at the school.

"You gotta look at leadership, you gotta look at their background, and a lot of things probably have just been shoved under the rug, when now they're starting to expose things that have been shoved under the rug," Owens said.

CBS 6 has learned Petersburg City Public Schools decided this year not to continue with year-round school at A.P. Hill.

Public Information Officer, Leigh Ann McKelway, declined to an interview, but in an email wrote:

"We are not looking backward at what has or has not been done in Petersburg schools so no one will be available to answer questions about previous scores or 2015 SOL testing irregularities."

McKelway also invited CBS 6 to see how they are re-inventing middle school learning and teaching.

We will be sitting down with them to discuss that topic later this week.

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