School systems in central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley are reviewing their latest report card from the state Standards of Learning tests.
Test pass rates plummeted across the board on one of the three classroom basics - English SOLs dropped statewide.
In central Virginia, the pass rate for Madison County fifth-graders dropped 33 percent on the writing test. In Augusta County, eighth-graders slipped 26 percent for reading.
Falling pass rates have some schools worried they'll fail to meet new state accreditation standards.
"Results don't indicate students are learning less. It means the state is expecting more," said Superintendent for Albemarle County Public Schools Billy Haun.
Reading and writing pass rates dropped across the board in every school system in our area - except Waynesboro High School, where writing pass rates stayed flat at 90 percent.
"We didn't teach any less. We probably taught as well as we've taught in the past. It's just the tests are different," said Haun.
Most school systems stayed steady or saw small gains on math SOLs. Greene and Madison county students improved their pass rates at nearly all levels of arithmetic from third grade up to high school.
Charlottesville City Schools are touting its students' advanced pass rates, which beat the state average on 30 of the 34 SOL tests.
"Our students who are passing these tests are passing them at higher rates, an advanced level, than across the state," said Beth Baptist, director of student services and achievement for Charlottesville City Schools.
The Albemarle school system is appealing to the state to reconsider how it uses these pass rates to label a school as failing. A new method to measure accreditation allows underperforming schools to use an average.
"You may have a school that didn't pass, didn't reach a benchmark, get accredited while you have schools that may have surpassed the benchmark that don't get accreditation because they're not allowed to use a three-year average," said Haun.
School systems say they're starting this new school year developing plans to improve on next year's SOLs.
"We'll use this as a chance to go back and analyze the scores and see what recommendations we can make within our curriculum," said Haun.
Cities and counties should find out which schools are accredited within a month.
Albemarle County Schools Press Release
(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – Albemarle County Public Schools students outperformed their peers across the state in Virginia's most recent Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, with scores that exceeded the state average on 26 of the 34 tests. On two other tests, their scores were even with the state average.
The state requires end-of-term tests for students in grades 3-12 for Math, Reading, Writing, Social Studies, and Science. At the high school level, students must pass the SOL test in order to receive graduation credit for the course.
Over the past three years, the state has increased the difficulty of SOL tests to more closely track the development of analytical and problem-solving skills among students and to replace multiple choice questions with questions that are technology-based.
"We wholeheartedly support these changes," said Dr. Billy Haun, Albemarle's Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning. "Rather than multiple choice questions that test memorization skills and what a student knows, we now are focusing on questions that measure both the depth and application of their knowledge," he added.
This year, both Reading and Science tests were made more challenging, and as expected, scores on these tests were lower compared to results in 2012.
"In general, our middle and high school students had strong scores, in most cases averaging five to 10 percentage points better than the state average. We saw some scores in our elementary schools, especially among third graders in math, that will require some attention," Dr. Haun said.
The SOL tests are one of several student assessments that individual schools use to develop performance improvement plans. Test scores are reviewed with principals and teachers at each school, and curriculum and instructional methods are enhanced to align with the more rigorous expectations of the SOL tests.
The state Department of Education will use SOL test results next month to determine how well each public school in the state is doing in meeting federally-approved performance benchmarks and in awarding accreditation.
Dr. Haun said several school divisions, including Albemarle, have concerns about new methodology the state is using to make those decisions, which could place higher performing schools at a disadvantage. For example, under the new formula, a school with a pass rate of 70 percent on a SOL test could be deemed not to meet a federal performance benchmark, while a school with a 40 percent pass rate could be in compliance.
"We have filed an appeal with the state about this methodology," Dr. Haun said. "We strongly support the actions the state has taken to promote highly competitive lifelong learning skills for our students. We applaud more rigorous SOL tests and federal and accreditation standards that are clear and meaningful, enhance accountability, and fairly evaluate all schools," he said.
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