Every high school in Newport News and Hampton should be fully accredited this fall, a designation based on 2016-17 Standards of Learning results which were released by the state Department of Education Tuesday morning.
Overall, Newport News expects to see 21 of 37 schools fully accredited, up one from the year before. Hampton's numbers should grow to 19 of 29 accredited, three more than last year and the division's highest rate in five years.
Heritage and Hampton should be the final two high schools across the two cities to be fully accredited, as they received partial designations last year.
The SOL results, based on exams taken last school year, show that more students in Newport News passed reading, while the writing pass rate percentage fell three points to 68 percent and history/social science and science each fell 2 percent to 80 and 74 percent, respectively. Seventy-one percent of students passed math, down a point from last year.
In Hampton, every subject area saw an increase or stayed the same, as more students passed reading, writing and history and social science than the year before. Seventy-five percent of students each passed math and science, same as last year.
Across the state, results were close to last year's. Eighty percent of students passed reading, the same percentage as last year, while writing ticked up two percentage points to 79 percent.
Seventy-nine percent of students in Virginia passed math, down one percent. Science was also down one percent to 83 percent. History and social science held steady at 86 percent.
"Students continue to perform at substantially higher levels on the commonwealth's rigorous assessments in mathematics, English and science than when these tests were first introduced in 2012 and 2013," Steven Staples, superintendent of public instruction for the state, said in a news release. "This long-term, upward trend is far more important than a snapshot for a single year and reflects the hard work of thousands of teachers, principals and other educators and their dedication to helping students meet high expectations."
Brian Nichols, chief academic officer for Newport News Public Schools, echoed Staples' comments, saying that Newport News' results, while not all positive gains, still show a trend in the right direction.
"I really think the past two years we've been laying the foundation and it shows in the incremental progress both in subject area results, schools and we'll see around accreditation as well," he said. "We'll continue to add more schools. It's sort of about foundational work we've been putting in place the past few years."
The biggest surprise Newport News saw, Nichols said, was that the percentage of students who passed the fifth-grade science test dropped from 74 percent to 69, after making big increases the year before. Several elementary schools saw drops in multiple subjects, while others saw gains in the same areas.
Nichols said the lessons learned from the numbers indicate where teachers are implementing the division's reworked curricula well, and where there needs to be more focus.
"Implementation is uneven, and that's not a drawback but a challenge in a large school division," he said. "How do you scale up success when you look at our data and you can see places and you can pick a subject and see a fantastic story, but you can also pick a subject and see a subject that is a little less fantastic. How do you take those best practices that some of our middle schools, high schools, elementary schools, and then apply them to the places down the street? ...
"If you would ask what keeps me up at night or what we worry about, it really is scaling up success."
In a news release Tuesday, Hampton City Schools credited a number of efforts as to why 13 schools posted gains in English and math, 17 in social studies and 14 in science.
In the 2015-16 school year, schools were placed into a system of differentiated support based on assessment data, meaning some schools got different resources or efforts based on its needs. The division also created a literacy program to support efforts "from birth to post-secondary," while also reworking curriculum to make sure that tests taken reflected what students are taught.
"I am pleased with the exceptional progress toward all of our schools being fully accredited," Superintendent Jeffery Smith said in a news release. "This is representative of a strong working relationship with our families and a committed and dedicated (Hampton City Schools) staff. We will continue our efforts to ensure that our young people not only exceed state benchmarks, but are also college, career and life ready."
More students in Gloucester passed their history and social science, math and science Standards of Learning tests last year than the year before, while the reading rate stayed steady and writing dropped a tick.
The biggest gain made was in math at Gloucester High School, which posted a 14-point jump from 65 percent to 79.
"We've had a lot of emphasis on mathematics instruction across K-12, but more specifically at the secondary level," said Chuck Wagner, assistant superintendent for instructional services. "That's going to be a continued area of focus, and also focusing on improving the performance of students with learning disabilities. Many of them have challenges we work continuously to address. That's a work in progress."
Based on the results, Superintendent Walter Clemons expects every school to be fully accredited.
"The teachers are the basis and they are the ones who should receive the credit for what happens along with the students and our support people who provide assistance. It's a team effort. We're pleased with the work that people do. ...
"We try to work collectively as a team, and we're moving in the right direction. We always want to continue to look to try to do more and go even higher."
Isle of Wight
Fewer students passed their courses in Isle of Wight in every subject area than in the year before.
The biggest drop was in history and social science at Westside Elementary School, where 78 percent of students passed, down 11 percent from the year before. Ten percent fewer students passed science at Windsor Elementary School, the second biggest drop.
The biggest gain made was at Georgie Tyler Middle School, where 76 percent of eighth-graders taking the writing SOL passed it, a 6 percent increase.
Isle of Wight County Schools officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Seventy-five percent of students in Mathews passed their math exams last year, a seven-point jump which is the largest gain in any subject across the Peninsula area.
That result was largest at Mathews High School, where 76 percent of students passed math, a 15-point gain from the year before. Eighty-one percent of students at Lee-Jackson Elementary School passed reading, which is 8 percent more than 2015-16.
"We're doing something right, first and foremost," Superintendent Nancy Welch said. "I'm looking at the gains that we've had in mathematics and in our reading, especially at our elementary school. It's just very positive. A tremendous amount of hard work has gone into putting these programs and supports in place for our students. And they're working.
"We still have some work to do obviously. There's always room for improvement, but we have a very sound base in Mathews."
Some of the next steps Welch said she and the School Board hope to take include adding a program for 4-year-olds, something Mathews has traditionally not had. Welch said that adding that resource would help the large, growing population of economically disadvantaged students to continue gains they made.
More students in Poquoson passed their science and writing SOLs than last year, and there was a small dip in the history and social science pass rates. The division's lowest pass rate came in math at 85 percent, the same as last year. Poquoson's highest pass rates were in science and history and social science, both at 93 percent.
Superintendent Jennifer Parish said the pass rates indicate the division will be fully accredited. Parish said the schools fell short on 15 out of 228 targets set by the federal government, including some for students with disabilities and students with economic disadvantages. But, she noted, the overall pass rates for those students improved in all subjects.
Poquoson students scored at or above the state average on all tests, and students scored 90 percent or higher on more than half the tests. The amount of students scoring a proficient score also increased across all subjects, Parish said.
She reaffirmed the division's primary mission is preparation for college, careers and responsible citizenship and pointed to efforts in STEM and project-based learning as positive initiatives the division was undertaking.
Williamsburg-James City County
Across the board, fewer Williamsburg-James City County students passed the major subjects: reading, writing, history and social sciences, math and science.
Science scores at Clara Byrd Baker Elementary School represented the biggest dip in percentage points across the division, with a 12-point drop to 68 percent. The biggest gain made was at Norge Elementary School, where 92 percent of students passed history and social sciences, 10 percent more than last year.
Economically disadvantaged students saw a five-point drop in the proportion of students who passed their science test: Just 64 percent passed this year, compared to 69 percent last year. At 72 percent, the proportion of students who passed history and social sciences tests is the same as last year.
W-JCC officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The pass rates for York County schools stayed the same in each subject except for reading, which went up from 89 percent to 90 percent. Across all its students, the pass rate in each subject was 90 percent, except for writing. The writing pass rate was 85 percent.
Across demographic groups, there were no changes greater than four percentage points.
The most dramatic change was in the Queens Lake Middle School writing pass rate, which improved by 19 percentage points, making up for a drop in pass rate of 23 percentage points last year.
School officials who could speak on the results were not available Tuesday.
Staff writers Josh Reyes and Wesley Wright contributed to this report. Hammond can be reached by phone at 757-247-4951.