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RPS leader says 'multi-year effort' needed to reverse VGA test scores

Posted at 4:52 PM, Nov 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-10 08:46:16-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools called the results heartbreaking.

Initial Virginia Growth Assessment test scores showed Richmond students, in grades 3 thru 8, 35-percent of students were considered proficient in reading and 10 percent for math for their grade level.

"It's the result of the pandemic and the unfinished learning that occurred over the last few years," Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras said.

Richmond School Board member Jonathan Young said the poor test results shouldn't surprise anyone.

He was and remained critical of the school division's decision to stay all virtual last year -- something he opposed.

"The bottom is fall has fallen out, we're in a really bad place," Young, the Richmond Public School Board 4th District Representative, said. "It's tragic because we're talking about human beings. We're talking about people's lives. We're talking about children."

Despite the scores, Kamras stood by the decision to keep students home for the 2020-21 school year.

"I think it was the right decision for our community. We had incredibly high transmission rates. I think folks have to remember here in Richmond, and in particular, within RPS, things were quite bad," said Kamras, who added that school divisions that went back-and-forth between in-person and virtual when transmission rates were higher faced their own challenges. "I actually think the consistency that we had, even though it was virtual, actually may have been beneficial to many of our students. And perhaps, it would have been even more dire had we've been yo-yoing back and forth between virtual and in-person."

Treysi Knox, who has a child in third grade, said she also was not surprised the struggles of virtual learning lead to poor test results.

"We haven't built a solid foundation. So if she doesn't have the first block, why would you be surprised if five blocks later she's still struggling?" she asked.

She said she wanted to see how Richmond Schools intended to close the learning gap.

"How are we supposed to address it and be partners with the teachers?" added Knox. "So, we can help make sure that when our kids go into the SOLs or when they get tested again, that this is more accurate. That they have every tool that they need to catch up and to understand the concepts that are being addressed and introduced to them."

To that end, both Kamras and Young both talked about additional funding and support for relevant programs.

"We are starting by investing $65 million of our federal stimulus directly in literacy support for the students who needed the most," said Kamras. "We know learning to read is the gateway skill, which opens up everything else. And so we are driving towards our goal of ensuring every student is reading on grade level or beyond by the third grade."

"What we can do is provide for additional support, relevant to literacy or relevant to mathematics. What we can do is invest in our extended day programming. What we can do is ensure that we are retaining our teachers," added Young, who said the latter issue was a principle challenge and he was pleased the RPS board voted to reverse course on its vaccine mandate.

They also said the school district would take another look at an extended, or year-round, school calendar.

"To give more time, not just for academics, but also for all of the social and emotional experiences that we know are so critical to students," Kamras said.

"On Monday, i.e. on the 15th, we're going to have an opportunity to review a few draft proposals," said Young. "And then we anticipate that in the first part of January — subsequent a lot of input, a lot of feedback from all of our stakeholders, principally our teachers and families and students, all of our stakeholders — that the school board will weigh in and make a decision at the top of the year relevant to next school year."