By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton schools continue to expand in-person learning opportunities for students as COVID-19 metrics continue to trend down, and fourth graders are next to be offered a four-day school week starting March 22.
Fifth graders may likely return to school four days a week starting March 29, and seniors can do the same starting April 12, the week after the Northampton schools spring break, according to a March 11 report.
Students in pre-K through third grade, as well as seventh grade, already have the option of a four-day school week.
Virtual instruction will continue for students whose families do not wish to send their children back to school in person four days a week.
Northampton schools will remain closed on Wednesdays for deep cleaning, although that may change in April, noted Associate Superintendent Christine Hill.
She reported at the March 11 Northampton school board meeting that the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) will introduce a new test for students this fall that will measure academic growth and identify deficiencies.
Superintendent Eddie Lawrence explained the test will adapt itself to the skill level of the student taking the test. For example, if a fourth grader is taking a reading test and continuously giving incorrect answers, the test questions will drop down to the third grade level.
If the student is still answering questions incorrectly, the questions will drop to a second grade level and so on, until the student is able to consistently provide the correct answers.
The tests will determine at which grade levels students can read and do math – an academic performance measure that is more practical than a numeric score.
Lawrence believes the new testing method will be applied to the state Standards of Learning or SOL tests administered in the spring to determine if a student may receive a passing grade on an SOL test based on academic improvement.
Lawrence called the change a “big step up” for standardized testing.
School board member Jo Ann Molera pointed out that “the biggest complaint about the SOL” is that “all regular instruction drops and teachers are teaching to the test.”
“It really drives people crazy, because in the good old days … teachers taught their curriculum and there was flexibility,” she said.
Students took standardized tests such as the Iowa Assessments or the Stanford Achievement Tests and “it was very apparent where there were deficiencies.”
There was no high-stakes testing; children were told the night before, “Now be sure to get some sleep and eat some oatmeal in the morning,” Molera said. “That was the extent of it. It wasn’t this … stress.”
She wished the school board could tell teachers, “Do not teach to the test, just teach your kids.”
Hill noted that Northampton schools will follow VDOE’s emergency guidelines this year and offer alternative assessments for some SOL subjects, and “hopefully that will relieve some pressure from our students.”
Northampton schools are planning their summer program, which will not be called “summer school” because it is “something much more in-depth, much more rigorous,” Lawrence said.
An extended school year is planned for the middle and high school and is tentatively scheduled for four days a week from June 21 to July 1 and five days a week from July 6 to July 30. The school day for students would start at 7:45 a.m. and end at 1 p.m.
An elementary summer recovery program is also planned, which would be held five days a week from June 28 to July 30. The school day for students would start at 8 a.m. and end at 1:30 p.m.
All summer programs will include remediation and recovery of academic losses that occurred during COVID-19-related school closures.