Our public education system is predicated on the principle that every child can learn. But a big part of how well each child learns rests with the assumption that every school can teach. For this reason, perhaps no decision parents must make about their child's education is more important than their first decision: selecting the right elementary school.
In order to help make that choice a little less intimidating, Richmond magazine's first elementary school report card on pages 83-85 takes a look behind the schoolhouse doors, breaking down the region's four major school systems — Richmond city, plus Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties — to see which schools are most successful at laying a solid educational foundation for kids.
Test scores are the best window into a school's success, and most educational experts agree that when examining those tests, the most important measure is how many students not only passed the test, but passed it with flying colors. For this reason, our assessment looked at each school's performance on Virginia's Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, considering not only how many kids at each school passed, but also how many kids passed with scores indicating advanced proficiency. We also considered a school's consistency in scoring, examining test success averaged over a period of three school years.
In the region's elementary schools, SOL tests are administered from third grade through fifth grade. Our scoring system is broken down as follows: Half of a school's overall score is based on the percentage of its students demonstrating advanced proficiency on the SOLs in the 2011-12 school year; 20 percent is based on the percentage of students simply passing the SOLs in 2011-12; 15 percent is based on the three-year average (2009-12) of students passing the tests; and the remaining 15 percent is based on a school's three-year average (2009-12) of students passing the SOLs with advanced proficiency.
Our chart also includes information on student population, teacher education and programs — such as Title I, talented/gifted or English as a Second Language — that are available at each school. This information was not used in calculating the overall score for each school.
And while useful in showing which schools lay the best foundation in core subject areas, this rating system doesn't consider one very important part of the formative education process: Elementary school is as much about learning the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic as it is about learning to socialize and interact — how to play and work together. But unlike reading, writing and arithmetic, teaching these vital skills is an art, not a science, which means some measures of a school's success just can't be judged based on standardized tests.