Seven Newport News schools were denied accreditation by the Virginia Department of Education Wednesday morning, while all schools in five other Peninsula-area divisions earned full accreditation.
In Newport News, Hidenwood, Lee Hall, Newsome Park, Sedgefield and Jenkins elementary schools and Huntington and Passage middle schools are not accredited for the 2016-17 school year.
Across the state, 29 – or 2 percent of the state's 1,482 schools – were denied, and 81 percent of schools were fully accredited.
Newport News and Richmond Public Schools each had the most denied schools at seven each, which represented 18.4 percent of Newport News' schools and 15.9 percent of Richmond's.
Overall, 20 of 38 Newport News schools are fully accredited. Last year, 14 were fully accredited, and four were denied accreditation.
In order to be fully accredited, a school needs to meet or exceed a 75 percent passage rate on English Standards of Learning tests, and 70 percent each on mathematics, history and science SOLs. High schools also must meet a graduation index of 85 or higher. Scores taken in the spring determine the accreditation status for the following school year.
Some schools are considered "Partially Accredited: Approaching Benchmark" or "Partially Accredited: Warned School," based on their year-over-year SOL results. The state added those tiers of partial accreditation, as well as "Partially Accredited: Improving School," last year as a way to recognize the schools that are making improvements but don't yet meet all benchmarks.
In order for an unaccredited school to become accredited the next year, it must meet the benchmarks for full accreditation. Even if a school has made progress in subject areas, as is the case for all of Newport News' denied schools except Sedgefield, there is no leeway for them to obtain partial accreditation.
"The label belongs to the whole school, but the label is caused by usually performance in one subject, two subjects, one grade level, not the entire school," said Superintendent Ashby Kilgore. "So I think you have to look underneath the label and just appreciate many, many great things that go on at all of these schools and that the achievement will come as a result of those things. ...
"The strategy is what services, what support can the central office provide in the subject areas that they need," Kilgore said. "And also what needs to happen inside the school. Sometimes that's with interventions, sometimes that's with curriculum support. It's like an individual diagnosis to work with what we do best in that school."
A school is denied accreditation if it doesn't meet the benchmarks for full accreditation for four straight years. Some Hampton and Newport News schools fall into that category but currently have a "To Be Determined" status, because divisions appeal the denial by submitting a plan to improve a school.
Divisions can cite new leadership and staff, curriculum changes and other indicators as reasons to be considered "Partially Accredited: Reconstituted School."
In Newport News, six schools are "To Be Determined": Carver, Epes, Saunders, Palmer and Sanford elementaries and Heritage High School.
Some of them, such as Palmer and Heritage, are just a few percentage points from full accreditation. Others, such as Carver and Epes, need more improvement to meet the benchmarks.
"The schools that are currently marked 'TBD,' we're very proud of the progress that they've made," Chief Academic Officer Brian Nichols said.
All five of Gloucester's elementary schools and its two middle schools are fully accredited but the high school fell slightly short in math, receiving partial accreditation with a warning.
"Over the last five years, math has been problematic," Superintendent of Schools Walter Clemons said. Sixty-seven percent of students passed the math Standards of Learning test in the spring, which is higher than the school's pass rate of 59 percent in 2014.
Last year, Gloucester High School was fully accredited with a math pass rate of 71 percent.
Clemons said several contributing factors played into the school's drop. "We had some adversity that hit us last year all at the same time," he said.
The school was not fully staffed and several other teachers were out with medical issues, resulting in long-term substitutes, he said. In addition, a math coach hired to help the division left early in the year and could not be replaced until January.
This year is different, he said — the school is fully staffed, the math coach has already started working on new programs, and the students at the high school have a new hybrid schedule.
The math score is a "slight setback," Clemons said, but the high school made gains in history, science, and English scores, while the graduation rate remained steady at 94 percent.
"We will rectify this," Clemons said. "Sure (math) is an area we want to focus on for the upcoming year to try not to only meet the benchmark but to exceed it by a large margin. I see a lot of positive things on the horizon for us."
As division officials expected, 16 of 29 schools were fully accredited and Bassette Elementary School had its accreditation denied for a second straight year.
Like Bassette, Andrews PreK-8 School was also denied last year, but gained full accreditation status this year.
John Caggiano, deputy superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, said that the improved ratings can be attributed to the use of a database that tracks students on an individual level and can highlight trends — good or bad — among the student population.
The division also implemented walk-throughs in the building to assess what's working and not working, and it reworked professional development so it was brought to teachers in their buildings.
"We realize that there's a lot of work to be done on behalf of students, but we are pleased that we are trending in the right direction," Caggiano said, pointing out that the division is at its highest rate of full accreditation in four years.
Nine schools — Aberdeen, Forrest, Smith, Bryan, Cary, Tyler and Machen elementaries and Lindsay and Davis middle schools — have the status of "To Be Determined." Some fall within several points of full accreditation. Smith is 1 percentage point from full accreditation, which Caggiano said came down to the SOL scores of a "handful of students."
"For the schools that we submitted applications, we felt confident submitting those applications that demonstrated, particularly when you look at academic progress, that the overwhelming majority of those schools were trending in the right direction," he said.
Isle of Wight
All nine Isle of Wight County schools, including last year's partially accredited Hardy Elementary School, received full accreditation this year.
Hardy's SOL scores last school year showed pass rates rise from 71 to 84 percent in English and from 77 to 86 percent in math, so the division wasn't expecting bad news, said Lynn Briggs, district spokeswoman.
"In looking at our data and how we've been assessing students throughout the year, we really felt good going into the SOL testing that Hardy was going to do well," Briggs said. "We did mock testing, kind of like trial runs, and they did perform well, but until they do the actual SOL test, you hold your breath."
The state identified Hardy as a focus school last year, a designation given to Title I schools with scores in the bottom 10 percent of the state. Those schools stay on the list for a total two years and must employ state-approved coaches. Seeing Hardy's progress, Briggs said work there will be "a little less involved."
Even though Mathews High School's math pass rate of 65 percent dipped below the state's accreditation benchmark of 70, all three of the division's schools are once again fully accredited.
The high school's three-year average in math – 73 percent – is high enough, Superintendent of Schools Nancy Welch said, to earn full accreditation.
"We obviously have some work to do there," she said.
Like many other divisions, Welch said they struggle to fill math, science and technology positions.
An academic review several years ago helped the division find ways to fill in the gaps and improve English scores, especially at the elementary level. Welch said they plan to do the same thing for math.
"Obviously, we want the mathematics scores to be in the same percentile as the other schools," Welch said. "We can always do better. There is always something we need to work on."
Poquoson City Public Schools' four schools remain fully accredited for the 2016-17 school year.
The division continues to score high on SOL tests; the schools have been fully accredited since before 2002-03, according to online state records.
"Once again we're very pleased that all of our schools remain fully accredited in the state," Superintendent Jennifer Parish said. "It's really due to the hard work of faculty and staff and our students, with support of families as well.
"Teaching the Standards of Learning and being successful on those tests is part of the work we do to prepare our students."
Williamsburg-James City County
All the schools in Williamsburg-James City County are fully accredited for the 2016-17 school year.
This marks the sixth year in a row W-JCC has been fully accredited.
"I am very pleased that all W-JCC schools are fully accredited again and attribute our continued academic success to the incredible dedication of our teachers, administrators and staff," said acting W-JCC Superintendent Olwen Herron.
All 19 of York County School Division's schools are fully accredited this year.
York schools have been accredited every year since at least 2001-02 except for in 2013-14, according to York spokeswoman Katherine Goff.
Staff writers Reema Amin, Frances Hubbard and Ryan McKinnon contributed to this report. Hammond can be reached by phone at 757-247-4951.