Lynchburg City Schools is hoping academic reviews of five schools completed early this year will improve student performance and accreditation results.
Any school that performed below standard on annual accreditation ratings or had students that scored near the standard or in the improving category on Standards of Learning tests is required by the Virginia Department of Education to complete an academic review of its educational programs.
Under guidance from VDOE, the LCS Curriculum and Instruction Department conducted academic reviews for Perrymont and Linkhorne elementary schools, Linkhorne and Sandusky middle schools and Heritage High School.
The academic reviews require the division to conduct a paper audit of lesson plans, tests and quizzes, data monitoring and evaluations.
LCS Director of Curriculum and Instruction April Bruce told the Lynchburg City School Board last week the division felt it needed to do more than a paper audit.
“We didn’t think we would get really a true picture on exactly what was occurring in the classrooms unless we took it one step further and went in and observed,” Bruce told the board.
From August 2018 to February 2019, school improvement teams observed, reviewed and trained new staff and staff in warned areas. The VDOE approved the reviews in early May.
Bruce said the school improvement teams noticed assessments and lessons students were being given weren’t always aligned with the appropriate cognitive level, standards or rigor.
“We’re trying to work with teachers so they understand they have to take it deeper than just the recall level and have students experience what it’s like to conduct. We’d like the students to talk about the content more so they’re in the constant critical thinking mode. We’re doing that through professional development with our teachers,” Bruce said.
Bruce said for Perrymont Elementary School, the original goal was to see why science scores were “not where we wanted them to be,” even though the school is accredited.
Bruce said Perrymont and Linkhorne elementary school science teachers have science kits available for students, but teachers were demonstrating the experiments rather than having the students conduct them.
“Some of the teachers were demonstrating some really cool science lessons, but the students weren’t getting their hands in there and conducting the experiments. So that’s what we want to see because the level of our Standards of Learning tests are quite rigorous and they have to know exactly how to investigate and how to conduct those experiments,” Bruce said.
Science lessons at the school have been observed to ensure students are completing the experiments, and teachers were required to submit evidence of students doing the experiments, Bruce said.
Linkhorne Elementary School is accredited but has lower-than-desired scores in English and science. The school also faces achievement gaps in English and math.
Bruce said Linkhorne Elementary teachers were giving “lessons without clear criteria for success,” meaning there wasn’t evidence to demonstrate the students understood the content.
“We like to see in a lesson that the students got it. Sometimes they’ll do it with an exit slip or a two-question, little summary of the lesson so that teachers know I have proof the students got it. We saw some lessons that did not have that present, so that’s something we’ve been working on,” Bruce said.
Heritage High School is accredited with conditions and is looking to close the achievement gap in math among black students and students with disabilities.
Bruce said at Heritage all math teachers were teaching the new math standards, but “not all lessons were fully aligned to the standards and at the appropriate rigor.”
“We also saw sometimes that the pacing was not always at the appropriate level. We saw that teachers were spiral reviewing throughout lessons, but sometimes the spiral review went a little bit too long and they didn’t get to cover all that they needed to cover in class,” Bruce said. Spiral reviewing is the practice of spreading out learning over time and revisiting material repeatedly over months.
Linkhorne Middle School has scores below the standard in English and also saw an achievement gap in English for black students and students who are disadvantaged or have disabilities.
Sandusky Middle School scored near the standard for English but struggles with an achievement gap in English for black students and students who are disadvantaged or have disabilities.
At Linkhorne and Sandusky middle schools, Bruce said they had “significant concerns over lesson alignment at both schools,” which included content and appropriate rigor for lessons.
“The spiraling of lessons often led students to not having access to grade level content so sometimes the reading materials were below grade level,” Bruce said.
Bruce said the lack of instructional planning at Linkhorne Middle School was a concern, and the lack of aligned plans was a concern at Sandusky Middle School.
“While teachers analyzed summative data like the SOL scores, they were analyzing data, but it was data that they got in the summer, and they didn’t continue to update the data they were looking at throughout the year, which we call formative data that will help us guide instruction,” Bruce said. “That led to less productive [professional learning communities] at those schools.”
LCS received a Federal School Improvement Grant in May to implement new reading and math remediation programs, with training and implementation beginning in July, at Linkhorne and Sandusky middle schools.
Bruce said the division will continue to monitor lesson plans, lessons and assessments to ensure they are aligned with the appropriate cognitive level, rigor and clear criteria for success; analyze data and move students in and out of remediation based on skill deficits, and provide feedback and support to teachers and staff; and more.
The division also will have professional development and training opportunities and implement new programs and continue observations.
Lynchburg City School Board member Michael Nilles said “it’s good to see a focus on particular schools” but questioned whether all teachers, especially new teachers, and schools were providing the right level of rigor.
“Our supervisors attend school improvement meetings at all of our schools, and they’re working on deficit areas throughout the year. ... As soon as we get data in our hands and start meeting with principals and working on school improvement plans with them, we’re putting those pre-academic strategies in place,” Bruce said.
Superintendent Crystal Edwards said everyone has the same instructional focus. She said some teaching practices lead to better student performance, so the division has to question “what’s the fidelity at which you’re implementing these practices?”
Moving forward, Edwards said the division is looking at making sure the instructional focus, feedback and “level of even how we view rigor” is consistent.
Liz Ramos covers K-12 education for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434)385-5532.