RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Public Schools have been chasing full accreditation for years. Now, school officials say there are promising signs of progress — but science scores may throw a wrench in the works.
“Our goal for our accreditation is to have 100% of our schools fully accredited,” said Valenta Wade, head of testing and data for RPS, at a school board meeting Monday night.
That may not be a realistic goal in the short term, because of the district’s 38 ordinary schools (excluding charter and specialty schools like Franklin Military Academy and Open High) just 12 of them are fully accredited.
Virginia’s accreditation system works on a 3-tier system. Every indicator — specific measures in different subject and performance areas — gets rated at level 1, 2 or 3. A level 1 means the school is performing fine in that area. A level 2 means there are some concerns, but the school isn’t in immediate danger of losing accreditation.
A level 3 indicator in any category, however, loses a school full accreditation — and allows the state department of education to step in and oversee a local remediation plan.
“A level 2 is really good, and it can get you accredited, however, if a school stays at level 2 or 3 for 5 consecutive years, it will be called a level 3 lock for that indicator,” Wade said.
That means that the school has to achieve a full pass — a level 1 — in that category before it can get its full accreditation back.
School officials highlighted six schools — including John Marshall High School — that were closest to regaining their accreditation, with just one indicator at Level 3.
What’s the Matter?
All six schools fell short in science, with low scores in that subject being the only reason they hadn’t achieved full accreditation.
“Science was our biggest barrier to accreditation last year. We went from 15 [level 3] indicators to 27 this year. That’s an 80% increase,” said John Grove, a data analyst for the division.
Grove noted that this was actually a good performance compared to the rest of the state. Statewide, the number of schools with Level 3 ratings in science rose over 300%.
Richmond has faced a decline in SOL scores since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, with overall scores declining almost 20% compared to pre-pandemic levels — and continuing to slide even as other localities began their recoveries.
“What are we doing different for these schools? What have we done different for science overall for the [level 3] science indicators?” asked school board member Mariah White.
“We look at where all our schools are, and we provide our support based on that,” a school official answered.
White went on to add that the division had hired an elementary science curriculum specialist and re-arranged some foundational courses to better prepare students for high school.
The division also unexpectedly faces a new standard they must fulfill: chronic absenteeism.
Schools will now lose accreditation if more than 25% of students are absent for more than 10% of the school year.
That factor was omitted from ratings over the past 3 years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but though the Virginia Department of Education requested another exemption for the upcoming year, that proposal was rejected by the state board last month.
That puts the status of at least three of Richmond’s accredited elementary schools at risk — all three of which are majority Black and Hispanic.
Board member Cheryl Burke asked Superintendent Jason Kamras how many schools were expected to earn their full accreditation in the coming year, but Kamras declined to give an exact figure.
“We’re excited to make gains and I’m looking forward to all the data when it comes in so we can share the great news when it does,” Kamras said.
You can view the accreditation status and individual indicators for every school in Richmond on the school division’s accreditation dashboard.