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Parents call on APS to address slow academic growth, teacher turnover at Oakridge Elementary

Oakridge Elementary School in the Arlington Ridge neighborhood in May of 2023 (via Google Maps)

A small group of parents from Oakridge Elementary School are asking Arlington Public Schools to take a hard look at student achievement and teacher retention.

Student assessments show low growth and lower pass rates in math and science tests at the school in the Arlington Ridge neighborhood. Meanwhile, it has higher teacher turnover than the school system as a whole, according to the group, named Concerned Parents of Oakridge

“We’ve looked at the data as of the end of the 2022 school year and we did not see academic growth but we did see significant staff turnover and a widening equity gap,” group representative Anna Hudson told the Arlington School Board last week. “We know that many teachers will not return to Oakridge in the fall.”

Hudson is one of four parents who co-wrote a letter on behalf of this group, urging APS to hold students to higher academic standards.

APS has been talking with parents and the Arlington Ridge Civic Association about these issues, per an email that the school system shared with ARLnow.

It has developed a plan that addresses academics and staff satisfaction, as well as family engagement and behavior management, the email says. Not long after this plan was developed, a fight broke out among Oakridge parents at a fifth grade commencement ceremony.

The school began sending iPads home at the end of April so students and families can access the learning software APS has on these devices throughout the summer. Last year, Oakridge restricted iPad use at home due to inappropriate content found on the device of a student.

Before the school year ended earlier this month, English and math supervisors and other administrators began meeting regularly with teachers and making rounds at the school and teachers have quarterly planning days to prepare their lessons.

Demonstrating growth in reading and math are part of the school’s strategic plan. Oakridge committed to increasing small-group and one-on-one instruction and regular staff meetings to reach this goal.

When it comes to performance in English, Oakridge students are close to on par with their peers countywide, with 74% passing a state assessment in the 2021-22 school year, compared to the countywide average passing rate of 78%, per a state school quality dashboard.

In math, history and science, the Arlington Ridge elementary school performs lower than APS as a whole, though some of the elementary schools with high rates of children from low-income families have lower pass rates, per data from a state dashboard.

In math, 64% of Oakridge students passed state assessments compared to the APS rate of 74%, and in science, 40% pass rate compared to a 64% pass rate. Pass rates in Arlington for these subjects range from 95% to 21% and 90% to 16%, respectively.

Schools with some of the highest pass rates, like Nottingham Elementary School, registered low “growth rates,” while schools with lower pass rates register high growth rates, such as Randolph and Drew elementary schools. The Oakridge parents say they are troubled by the zero growth registered in math and science.

“Equity in education relies on strong academics. Reading, writing, math and problem-solving are critical foundations, whether you go to tech school, 4- year university or enter the workforce after high school,” Hudson said. “Low standards in elementary school lead to kids falling out in middle school and high school. Our kids are capable and they deserve better.”

As for staff retention, the state data dashboard indicates that last year, Oakridge had double the percentage of inexperienced teachers compared to APS as a whole. That population has been, on average, 2-3 times higher at Oakridge compared to the county as whole since 2017, per the parent group.

APS says it is taking steps to “support, recognize and celebrate staff” and ensure staff can share their concerns. This includes more staff recognitions and celebrations, monthly meetings to discuss specific concerns and solutions and surveys to identify other issues in the building.

Arlington Education Association president June Prakash says she is following trends in teachers retiring or leaving the county or the profession but she had not yet heard chatter about teacher turnover at Oakridge.

Some reshuffling and departures can be expected every year come the summer, she said, placing more weight on the mid-year departures as a harbinger of potential problems at a school.

Site-specific reasons why teacher retention may be lower range from a principal’s management style to administrative staffing changes not based on seniority, such as reassigning a veteran fourth-grade teacher to the second grade, according to Prakash.

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