School children across Prince William struggling with reading, new data show

Jeanine Lawson and Peter Candland were two of three members of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors to shuffle out of a School Board training session on Implicit bias, a section of a larger training on Critical Race Theory.

With tens of thousands of children out of a classroom, School Board focused instead on racism training

Prince William County’s youngest and most vulnerable students are struggling to read.

New Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening data for the Prince William County School Division obtained exclusively by PLN show an alarming increase of students from kindergarten through third grade who need reading help. The test, required by the Virginia Department of Education to be given to children in the aforementioned grade levels, is used to identify gaps that could hinder the development of a child’s reading skills.

While schools throughout the county are reporting growing large increases in the number of students who need reading help, most of the worst-performing schools are in the Woodbridge area.

  • Maurumsco Hills Elementary increased 50 points over 2019
  • 70% now identified for early reading intervention.
  • Featherstone Elementary School increased 48 points over 2019
  • 69% now identified for early reading intervention.
  • Kilby Elementary School increased 36 points over 2019
  • 56% now identified for early reading intervention.
  • Vaughn Elementary School increased by 35 points over 2019
  • 55% now identified for early reading intervention.
  • Belmont Elementary School increased by 30 points over 2019
  • 56% now identified for early reading intervention
  • Neabsco Elementary School increased 29 points over 2019
  • 51% now identified for early reading intervention.

Schools in the Manassas area weren’t spared, either.

  • West Gate Elementary School increased by 53 points over 2019
  • 68% now identified for early reading intervention.
  • Sinclair Elementary School increased 32 points over 2019
  • 56% now identified for early reading intervention.

Bucking the trend was Minnieville Elementary School in Dale City, which saw a six-point drop in the number of students who need reading intervention. Tyler Elementary School in Haymarket also scored better, dropping eight points from last year.

The Phonological Awareness Literacy Screenings are given to students twice a year in spring and fall.

Normally, children take the first test six weeks after the start of school. This year, however, the school division administered the tests sooner in “an effort to gather current data on students’ literacy skills so that teachers could plan targeted instruction and intervention as soon as possible,” said Prince William County Schools spokeswoman Diana Gulotta.

The tests will be given again in May to measure growth in students’ reading abilities. Meanwhile, failing schools will receive additional funding from an Early Intervention Reading Initiative grant to implement solutions. They could include small group tutoring by a reading teacher or paraprofessional, or a computer-based reading program that adapts to the student’s skill level and growth added Gulotta.

Here’s the full report that lists each county elementary school.

The school division began classes completely online at the start of the school year on August 10. It wasn’t until December 2 that Prince William County Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Walts allowed kindergarten and first-grade students to return to in-person learning at 50% capacity.  Now half of the students sit with a teacher inside a classroom while the other half use a laptop to attend class from home, Tuesday through Friday.

Second and third-grade students aren’t due to return to a school building until January 12, 2021. Middle and high school students won’t be able to walk through a school building door until February 2.

Sources tell PLN the testing data was made available to elected members of the County School Board before its most recent joint meeting with the Board of County Supervisors on Tuesday, December 8.  Those testing scores were not discussed publically during the rare joint meeting.

Instead, Woodbridge District School Board representative Loree Williams asked a school division’s professional training office to provide a lecture to elected officials on implicit bias, a section of a larger training on Critical Race Theory. Specifically, Williams ordered the training on implicit bias, something a school division trainer described as unconscious, negative thoughts people have toward others.

The 40-minute training, administered “through a lens of love and accountability,” as the school division trainer described it, addressed racism and stereotyping. It identified bias in people who tend to be conservative when making decisions, those who feel positive about the choices they make even when “the choice has greater flaws,” those who make decisions based on knowledge and experience of past events, and those who harbor overall negative thoughts.

President Donald Trump ordered an end to Critical Race Theory training within federal workplaces in September. Three Republicans on the Board of County Supervisors walked out of the training before it began.

“This is all about Critical Race Theory. It’s anti-Americanism,” said Brentsville District Supervisor Jeanine Lawson.

“If this is being taught to our children, we need to know about it,” added Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland.

School officials assured the elected leaders that the training is given only to school employees. “The specific training you see here is for professional educators in the school system,” replied Rita Everett Goss, Associate Superintendent for Student Learning and Accountability. “It’s a chance to foster inclusivity and equity.”

Those leaders who remained in the room defended their decisions. “I see this training all the time in the military,” said Neabsco District Supervisor Victor Angry, who served as Command Sergeant Major of the Army National Guard. “This isn’t just about us… this helps us in our districts and our community.

“My bias was with the gay community,” said Lillie Jessie, the Occoquan District School Board representative. “I grew up in the south, and we laughed at people who didn’t act like us.”

Jessie credited her children with changing her mind and convincing her to accept homosexuals.

Before walking out, the Repubclains said they did not receive the training materials before the meeting began and weren’t aware of the subject matter that would be covered.

“We should be sensitive to the complaints made earlier,” said Gainesville District School Board representative Jennifer Wall. “It is a mistake not to be transparent beforehand to what’s coming up in the meeting…vagueness leads to bias, which is what happened here tonight.”

Uriah Kiser is the founder and publisher of Potomac Local News. 

11 thoughts on “School children across Prince William struggling with reading, new data show

  1. The public schools have been thoroughly ruined. It started 50 years ago. Reading? How has reading changed over the past 50 years? It hasn’t. Apparently, the teaching methods have changed for the worse. Or, could it be that the parents can’t read and they can’t help their young children?

    1. PALS tests were administered early this year so teachers could identify struggling readers and focus even more than usual on mitigation strategies. Coupled with the switch to virtual learning in March–a switch that the public acknowledged as difficult for everyone and lauded teachers for their efforts at the time–students are justifiably experiencing some setbacks. How quickly the public forgets! In April, teachers were heroes. Now Mr. Kiser twists the facts to excoriate teachers for–gasp!–collecting data and using it to remediate, and of course some gullible members of the public are quick to jump on the ever-popular ‘blame teachers for everything’ bandwagon. Your comment that reading has not changed shows your ignorance of the topic you’re commenting on. Reading has changed in the information era. Teachers are constantly learning new ways to present subject matter! After all, they are competing with a plethora of games and other media, not to mention societal changes. You are correct on one thing; many parents do not read to their children, and studies show that parental involvement has a huge effect not only on students’ reading scores, but their academic achievement in general. With many parents struggling to get by in a global economic and health crisis, it’s understandable that reading aloud before bedtime has fallen by the wayside. When did this country lose all sense of compassion? Even more than the misinformation, the eagerness to think the worst of dedicated public servants is truly saddening.

  2. Does anyone remember the PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Assoc) strike from the 1980’s? When they decided to strike and shut down air travel Ronald Reagan fired all of them, banned them from ever working in civil service again. He hired all new controllers and even had some military air controllers fill in until they could staff back up. He was successful, PATCO was not.

    It’s time to consider Superintendents ordering the teachers back to work in the classrooms directly with the students face to face, or start from scratch. If you no longer want to work in a classroom, it’s okay to look for a new profession. This has gone on long enough. And, priorities need to be reset. Instead of rescuing the children and making moves to get them back on track, instead we hear “we need to create a committees to go find racism”. – If there’s a racism problem, take care of it, but no more scavenger hunts to “see if we can find anything”, especially not when our kids need to be learning to read. This hand has been incredulously overplayed. Prioritize better, or the public needs to pressure the School Boards to replace the Superintendents.

    Public schools don’t seem to realize their actions are making them obsolete. Parents are finding permanent and better alternatives. Since public schools are not providing the contracted service we pay for, funding will be scrutinized more than ever, rightly so.

    If public schools want to remain relevant, they need to return to business and consider a marketing and rebranding plan. Otherwise, private schools and homeschooling pods will eat their lunch.

    1. Virginia, like the rest of the nation, was experiencing a shortage of teachers even before the pandemic. Now that teachers are serving not only as the scapegoat for every other problem in society, but also being blamed for a deadly virus keeping kids out of public school buildings, even more are changing professions or retiring early. Where will you find replacements to realize your plan of firing all the public school teachers? Are you also planning to fire all the federal workers who are not reporting to office buildings? While you’re at it, you might consider firing the administrators and school board members sit at home on Zoom while demanding school staff return to the buildings.

      1. Favorable public opinion is turning away from you.

        Schools need to be back open like everything else. If Hallmark, TJ Maxx, ABC stores, Bath and Body Works, Ulta, etc can be safely opened and visited – so can schools. I see many school staff in those establishments. No fear to mingle with public to shop, only to teach school?

        All employees should be back to work in person. The school board already has returned to in person meetings a while ago, I know as I have attended. All this info is publicly avail on your employer website.. They are held at various larger venues (CFHS, BoS Chambers). Get info directly, not through political lobbyists claiming to represent your best interests.

        1. I answered your question, now answer mine if you can. Where are you going to find replacements for public school teachers? College students are not entering education as a profession in adequate numbers now to replace those who retire or otherwise leave teaching. The pay is low for a profession requiring a master’s degree. Virginia, like the rest of the nation, already has a teacher shortage. I’m very interested to read your plan to emulate the firing of all air traffic controllers.

          1. No employee is irreplacable, yet many try and operate under that premise. We hire subs (incl non degreed,,) all the time. There are a lot of out of work people who may step up. We could use the military again, not all teachers will want to lose their jobs. I don’t think things could get much worse doing that. Some of the teachers are trying…but this amount of online education doesn’t work, and they realize this. Then there are others who want to use the situation for political gains (recall the Educators driving the cars with fake coffins mounted on them). I believe one of them even demanded earlier in the summer that public pools be opened, such hypocrisy. When returning to school is tied to raises., curriculum changes or nationalized Healthcare – all credibility evaporates. Again see my previous comment about me referencing Stafford in my earlier comments about the school board meeting in person. Thats a gold star for Stafford.

            Glad you weighed in.

  3. I am in school in person four days per week with students who are utterly incapable of properly wearing their masks. I spend the majority of the day in the classroom with those students. When I go to a store, it’s for a few minutes. If I see someone not wearing a mask, I can walk away. They’re not in my personal space for upwards of six hours a stretch. So yes, educators are less afraid of shopping than they are of teaching in person, because shopping is less of a hazard than interacting with children at close range.

    I also attend school board meetings regularly and read the numerous FAQs on the PWCS website. Nothing I have written is incorrect. Some administrators and SB members are in person, but not all. Perhaps you should get your information from a better source than this outrage clickbait site posing as news.

  4. The language arts department in prince William is so imbred. Same people are constantly promoted. Hey, you get what you fing deserve.

  5. John Snow…maybe you went to Prince William Schools…need to focus on phonics instruction….its inbred. Lol.

    Dude, I cant imagine how hard it is to try and teach reading online. I’m not throwing stones. Tough decisions ahead…gotta do whats best for kids!

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