Two Richmond schools plagued with maintenance issues achieved wildly varying pass rates on Standards of Learning tests, but officials are reluctant to place blame on poor conditions.
At Fairfield Court Elementary, which experienced roof leaks so severe that students were moved into the empty Clark Springs Elementary in April, scores ranged from dismal to drastically improved compared with last year.
The fifth-grade English reading pass rate fell from 73 to 45 percent, while fourth-graders' scores jumped from 35 to 54 percent. Math and science results also showed drastic differences. The fifth-grade science pass rate fell from 80 percent to 57 percent, while fourth-grade math jumped from 48 percent to 83 percent.
Thompson Middle School, where children learned among buckets that collected dripping tar water, saw lower scores across the board. Its steepest drop was in civics and economics, which fell from a pass rate of 84 percent to 58 percent. The seventh-grade pass rate in math fell from 21 percent to 19 percent.
At a news conference Aug. 18, Mayor Dwight Jones touched on the topic of building conditions and education. "I don't want the distraction of poor building maintenance to keep us from focusing on teaching our children and maximizing the potential of every last child in the city of Richmond," he said.
But School Board members have said there can be a focus on both, and that some maintenance and safety issues just can't wait.
Last Wednesday, while the Virginia Department of Education was releasing SOL scores, new Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Dana Bedden was laying out a plan focused on curriculum improvement.
School Board Chairman Don Coleman, who represents the district containing Fairfield Court, says the largest impact on scores in the coming year will be Bedden and his administrative team's collaboration with principals. But he also hopes the kind of disruption that required moving Fairfield Court students into another building won't happen again.
"If a kid starts in one building and ends up in another building, I think the anecdotal reality is it has to have some effect on [scores]," Coleman says. "But this year, they're back and that's going to be one of our sparkling buildings now."