By Michael Buettner Staff Writer

Posted Aug. 16, 2016 at 8:20 pmUpdated Aug 16, 2016 at 10:22 PM

PETERSBURG — Students in the Tri-City area generally posted improved scores on the state's Standards of Learning tests this year, but the two areas that have struggled the most in recent years — Petersburg and Hopewell — saw little change from last year's results.

The most impressive gains this year were made by Prince George County, which saw its rankings on the crucial reading and mathematics tests improve by double digits compared with last year. The county climbed from 36th statewide to 18th on the reading test, with a pass rate of 84 percent, up from 81 percent last year and placing it in a tie with Chesterfield County and five other school systems.

On the writing test, Prince George jumped from 65th- to 36th-highest with a pass rate of 78 percent, up from 74 percent last year and tying with six other localities including Northern Virginia powerhouse Prince William County.

On the key mathematics test, Prince George rose from 46th to 33rd place, with a pass rate of 83 percent, up from 80 percent, placing it in another tie with Chesterfield (and nine other localities). Prince George also improved slightly on the History and Social Science test, rising to 20th place from 24th, but fell two spots from 49th to 51st on the science test.

Prince George County Public Schools Superintendent Renee Williams was traveling Tuesday and could not be reached for comment, but Lisa Pennycuff, assistant superintendent of instruction and accountability, said school system staff members were “very excited” by the report.

Pennycuff said a main reason for the improved pass rates was the “tiered system of supports” that were put in place for the 2015-16 school year. The system, she said, aims for “re-teaching and remediation” for students who need to retake an SOL test, by giving them a better understanding of the subject.

Pennycuff credited the School Board and Board of Supervisors for helping “get us the resources to put it in place.”

In contrast, Petersburg remained near the bottom in the statewide rankings on all five test subjects, and Hopewell landed in the bottom 20 in four of the five subjects.

On the reading test, Petersburg tied for last place in the state with the city of Richmond, with both cities' school systems posting a pass rate of just 60 percent, well below the statewide average of 80 percent.

Petersburg fared a little better this year on the mathematics test, climbing to a three-way tie for 126th place from 130th last year, with a pass rate of 63 percent, up from 57 percent in 2014-15. Only four school systems had lower pass rates: Greensville County, 62 percent; Martinsville, 60 percent; Richmond, 58 percent, and Lancaster County, 57 percent.

Petersburg schools Superintendent Marcus J. Newsome was attending a conference on Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

A total of 24 schools in the six Tri-Cities localities placed among the top 20 percent of schools statewide on the reading test, 17 of them in Chesterfield County, two in Prince George (Prince George High School and South Elementary School) and one in Dinwiddie County (Midway Elementary School).

Midway Elementary was the top-ranked school in the Tri-Cities on the math test, ranking 13th-highest in the state with a pass rate of 97 percent.

A total of 21 other local schools placed in the top 20 percent statewide on the math test, 16 of them in Chesterfield, three in Prince George (L.L. Beazley Elementary, South Elementary and William A. Walton Elementary) and two in Petersburg (A.P. Hill Elementary and Petersburg High).

At the other end of the scale, 11 Tri-Cities schools landed in the bottom 20 percent on the math test, three in Chesterfield (Jacobs Road Elementary, Falling Creek Middle and Ettrick Elementary), one in Dinwiddie (Dinwiddie Middle), three in Hopewell (Dupont Elementary, Harry E. James Elementary and Patrick Copeland Elementary), and four in Petersburg (J.E.B Stuart Elementary, Robert E. Lee Elementary, Vernon Johns Junior High and Peabody Middle).

Only 15 schools statewide posted lower math pass rates than Peabody's 47 percent. Richmond's Martin Luther King Jr. Middle and Richmond Alternative were the only schools in the state with pass rates below 20 percent, at 19 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

• Michael Buettner may be reached at mbuettner@progress-index.com or 804-722-5155.