Archived Story

Disturbing trend continues

Published 11:26am Saturday, September 1, 2012

Much has been made by the education establishment about tougher math standards on the standardized tests that students in Virginia public schools took this spring.

Math scores were down sharply locally and throughout the state because the questions were harder.

We get it.

In Franklin, the hullabaloo over math scores distracted from a much more serious problem: continuing declines in reading and writing, the two most important skills a student needs to succeed in the workplace.

It’s hard to fathom that Standards of Learning scores could get any worse in Franklin Public Schools, which last year ranked next-to-last statewide in an averaging of SOL pass rates for all subjects and grade levels.

They got worse.

At every grade level, the reading pass rate was down from the year before.

Less than 70 percent of Franklin third-, fourth- and fifth-graders passed the SOL reading test. By comparison, nearly 90 percent of students in those grades statewide passed the test. In neighboring Isle of Wight County, with which Franklin competes for families and jobs, better than 90 percent in those grades tested adequately in reading.

Just 62 percent of Franklin fifth-graders passed the SOL writing test, compared with 89 percent in Southampton and Isle of Wight counties and 87 percent statewide. The 62 percent in Franklin was down from 69 percent the year prior.

No one expects miracles from Franklin Public Schools and the people running them. They’ve been dealt a tough hand. A disproportionate number of Franklin students live in poverty and get little academic support at home. They come to school unprepared to learn. It is unreasonable in such circumstances to expect Franklin SOL scores to be among the state’s best.

It is reasonable, however, to expect improvement from the pitiful depths to which academic performance has plummeted.

Improvement is the fundamental challenge for Dr. Michelle Belle, the Franklin superintendent who was hired in 2009 to reverse the course of the city’s schools. Instead, as she begins her fourth year, the decline continues.

The patience of taxpayers is wearing thin, and stakeholders are asking legitimate questions about the effectiveness of leadership in the city schools.

In nearby Petersburg, the only school division in the state with a lower average SOL pass rate than Franklin in 2011, reading pass rates rose this year in every grade but one. No single grade level had a pass rate below 70.

Petersburg is proof that improvement is possible, even in a city with high poverty.

If Petersburg can make modest progress, surely can Franklin.

STEVE STEWART is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is

  • momto2Js

    Totally agree with happy camper. The parents need to be more involved, until that happens nothing will change.

    Suggest Removal

  • mason

    Maybe what we need is a public dialog. Let’s just hash it out openly. We have to insist on change and speak up about it. Unless we do, things will continue as they have been, and that’s down the drain.

    Suggest Removal

  • skooch

    Yea that’s right throw more money at the problem. Oboma just signed a Executive order to spend more money on Afro-American Kids to get them through High School and then College. The fact is the Students or their Parents just don’t care if they pass or fail. Until that problem is solved you might as well throw our money into the Blackwater river.

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  • truth

    More after school programs are needed.

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    • happycamper

      Right. That’ll do the trick. Let’s have the teachers have the added responsibility of doing even MORE after school work!

      What is required to make the scores better is NOT after school activities in school. What is required are more activities both before AND after school where the parents are involved with the children. And don’t give me this “working mom” stuff. I worked my entire life. Sometimes two jobs. But, I found the time to work with my children on their schoolwork and to make sure they stayed up-to-date. I realized that it was the only way I could ensure that they had a chance for a bright future.

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  • blackwaterpete

    Well here is where we agree except in one area. Being poor is no excuse for a poor education. I grew up in the western part of the state in a very poor family. Far worse than what I have seen here in franklin. What is poor is the excuse of a school super we have. Or is that poor excuse for a school super? Anyway it it time for the school super to be let go and move on somewhere else and kill that school system. They can lean and they can succeed with the proper teaching. But I have an idea the upper end of the system does not really care. Time for a new school super.

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  • mason

    And who is to be held accountable? No one, it appears.

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  • employee2

    “Improvement is the fundamental challenge for Dr. Michelle Belle, the Franklin superintendent who was hired in 2009 to reverse the course of the city’s schools. Instead, as she begins her fourth year, the decline continues”
    it appears to be on an even steeper slope.

    Suggest Removal

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