Richmond’s students are lagging behind Virginia’s average on tests and graduation rates, but the city is trying to lessen the gap.
According to the KIDS COUNT database, in the 2016-2017 school year 14.6 percent of students in Virginia were below the expected level for the PALS-K, which determines if a student’s readiness for kindergarten. In Richmond, 25 percent were below the expected level on the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screen.
In the same year, 80.2 percent of high school students graduated within four years while 91.3 percent of Virginia’s students did the same.
The KIDS COUNT database also shows that in the 2015-2016 school year, Virginia had a passing rate of 76 percent on the third grade Reading SOL, or Standards of Learning, a mandatory test going over the material students have learned throughout the year. Richmond only had 62 percent.
“Richmond schools went very slow to accommodate for everyone,” Emily Moore, a 16-year-old Richmond student, said. “Middle schools were an odd mix of students on different academic levels because of the different elementary schools they went to.”
Based on the elementary school, she said students could get differing educations, even though they all were taught off the same material. Moore said the whole blame couldn’t be placed on just the schools.
“There was definitely a large portion of students who really needed help, and the teachers would, as much as they could,” Moore said. “Quite a bit of students, however, didn’t care about school and wouldn’t listen to the teachers. Others couldn’t make it to school because of reasons at home or work.”
Richmond hasn’t been ignorant of these issues and has partnered with programs to assist their students. These programs include the Virginia Preschool Initiative and Aspire Academy.
The initiative is a state-funded program to assist at-risk students.
“The purpose of the program is to help students transition into kindergarten […] modelling the kindergarten classroom. I think it’s really important and helpful,” Tiana Simmons, the family service advocate at the preschool initiative, told C-HIT in an interview. “It takes in students and educates them in different fields to boost preparedness for children going into kindergarten.”
Aspire Academy is a high school program in Richmond that works with students who need assistance due to academic struggles, work or behavioral issues. It is a self-paced educational platform that also provides students with counselors and mentors to encourage them to graduate on time, Richmond Public Schools’ website said.
Rachel Robinson is a student at Appomattox Regional High School, Virginia.