What Strategies Improve Student Achievement

In 2012-2013, all Danville Public Schools were Fully Accredited based on Virginia’s Accountability and Accreditation System.  School accreditation ratings reflect student achievement on SOL tests and other approved assessments in English, history/social science, mathematics and science.  Elementary and middle schools are Fully Accredited if students achieve all of the following pass rates: English — 75 percent or higher; Mathematics — 70 percent or higher; Science — 70 percent or higher; and History — 70 percent or higher.  High schools are Fully Accredited if students achieve pass rates of 75 percent or higher in English and 70 percent or higher in mathematics, science and history; and, attain a point value of 85 or greater based on the Graduation and Completion Index (GCI).

In practical terms, this means that Danville Public Schools were considered to be a high performing school district in comparison to other school divisions in Virginia.  My interactions with many community members indicate that this fact is now well-known.

Presently, eight of our eleven schools are either Fully or Partially Accredited. Three schools have been Denied Accreditation despite having achieved the required pass rates for History/Social Science and Science for the past four years.  My goal in sharing this information is twofold.  First, it is critical that we set the record straight about our collective and historical performance.  Second, it is important to provide context of how we are transforming our schools toward the goal of high performance.  Ultimately, the investment in a school system is perhaps the most significant strategy a community can make toward economic vitality and productivity for a prosperous future.

The process of becoming a high performing school system requires certain foundational characteristics.  The first of which is a safe and orderly environment.  In layman’s terms, this simply means that our students, parents, staff, and community perceive our schools as a safe place for learning.  It is clear from recent headlines and reports that these perceptions may have changed for the better from last year to this year.  Much of this perception is driven by what receives attention.  Unfortunately, much of the attention in Danville through both formal and informal media sources has been about student discipline.  The truth is that in nearly every school and school system in our region and across the state less than 5% of all students have discipline infractions.  Given this fact, the perceptions of the level of student misbehavior in our schools may be skewed. The actual number of students who do not have discipline infractions is 95%.   Perhaps we should spend more time focusing on the 95% of our students who do the right thing every day instead of the former.

A second characteristic or strategy for improving school effectiveness (student achievement) is a high quality instructional framework that is supported and implemented by teachers, utilized with integrity, supported through job-embedded professional development, and monitored regularly as a means of evaluating effectiveness.  The nature of this work is complex, slow-moving, continuous, and data driven.

Danville Public Schools is deeply engaged in this work for the purpose of creating optimal and highly effective learning experiences for our students.  In practical terms, this simply means that high quality reading instructional practices for third graders in one school should closely resemble high quality reading instruction in another school regardless of the school’s location.  Ultimately, our work is aimed at achieving this level of engagement across all schools and classrooms. In the next issue, I will address other steps and practices that will result in improved and optimal performance including the curricular practices, monitoring student progress, and student mastery.