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Administrators Say Virgin Islands Students Score Below Average until 11th Grade

Sen. Marise C. James chairs the Committee on Education and Workforce Development Monday. (Photo courtesy V.I. Legislature)

V.I. Education Department administrators gave testimony on the Virgin Islands’ constant low averages in math and language skills and their efforts to correct the low statistics during Monday’s Committee on Education and Workforce Development meeting.

Virgin Islanders perform well below average in math and reading and only start to catch up when they reach 11th grade, according to education officials. Committee Chair Sen. Marise James disagreed and said, “That is not true” – children don’t perform better above 11th grade.

“We all know that,” James said. Government departments need to collaborate to learn if there is trouble at home – domestic violence, problems with housing or employment to deal with students’ issues, she added.

“The time we look at data from the top down is over. We have to look at data from the ground up,” said Education Commissioner Dionne Wells-Hendrington.

School attendance also seems to be an issue, as younger students tend to miss more school than those in the older grades. Assistant Education Commissioner Victor Somme said that school improvement team members call or visit parents at home after an absence of three days. It is often the same families but nothing can be done, he said. The improvement teams include attendance counselors, guidance counselors and social workers and school staff.

“We look at attendance frequently,” he said, speaking about the schools in both districts.

He indicated he is aware of what is happening in the homes but has no recourse.

Senators voiced concern and commented that if the parents don’t encourage children at home, the students won’t do well in school. School officials said absences often occur when parents have to be at work before the child is expected at school.

The commissioner testified that a report for the St. Thomas-St. John School district indicates the average score for children in kindergarten is 79 percent or above, “indicating a high level of proficiency, except in language and cognitive skills. The study also reported these children displayed higher scores in social skills in 2023-2024.

However, students’ proficiency declined to 4.7 percent last year from 2020. Surprisingly, the attendance rate in the district was 92.6 percent last year.

On St. Croix, overall proficiency levels declined from a 30.7 high in 2017-18 to 17.4 percent in 2023-24. Math proficiency fluctuated from 11 percent in 2020-21 to 5.6 percent in 2023-24.

Wells-Hendrington said the department has implemented three procedures to close the learning gaps. She said early intervention is important and teachers need to use learning plans and tutoring to overcome differences in learning abilities. Additional assistance can also come from professional development,  parent engagement and mental, social and emotional support. Initial training for teachers began last November.

To improve student achievements, all schools have formulated school improvement plans, the commissioner said. She named other programs for teachers to improve student abilities.

DOH also has determined that preK-3rd students remain the focus when training reading and mathematics teachers.

According to the commissioner, the department has received approval to use some of the American Rescue Plan funds for immediate infrastructure projects at territory schools, including mitigations of the modular units with expired warranties. Problems include floor and roof decay that need repairs to secure walls to roofs and wall panels. Eulalie Rivera K-8th and Charlotte Amalie High School are in the worst condition but remediation is planned on all modular units.

Wells-Hendrington also announced that John H Woodson Junior High reopened Feb. 12 after a broken pipe caused flooding in October 2023.

To ready Woodson for re-opening, air quality testing indicated mold remediation was successful. The department also ordered the cleaning of the air conditioners in every room and plans to have the units inspected yearly. A duct system was replaced. Floor and ceiling tiles and new lighting have been installed in the hallways, and new HVAC units have been installed in some rooms. There were also repairs made to the electrical and plumbing systems.

Another project taken on by the DOE includes the renovations of bathrooms territory-wide, the commissioner said.

“The state of our bathrooms had been a concern for both students and staff, with aging fixtures, plumbing issues and limited accessibility,” Wells-Hendrington said.

A contractor has been selected to renovate the 14 restrooms at St. Croix Central High, but St. Croix Educational Complex has been bundled with the other St. Croix schools for the renovations. The package is now open for bids.

James said discussion of rebuilding the territory’s schools would be another day.

Senators present at Monday’s committee meeting included Marise C. James, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Marvin A. Blyden, Diane T. Capehart, Dwane M. DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Kenneth L. Gittens, Javan E. James Sr., Franklin D. Johnson, Carla J. Joseph, and Milton E. Potter.



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  1. How many decades, how many millions of dollars, until alternatives such as charter schools are tried? The DOE has proven they can’t educate our children, even for needed jobs in the trades. The cost is generations of children unable to thrive in a society education is needed for higher income.