Per­for­mance on SOL tests drops in re­gion, across Va.

Rich­mond ranks among low­est dis­tricts in state, but im­proves in 3 ar­eas

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY JUSTIN MATTINGLY

Rich­mond-area stu­dents fared worse than they did last year on many state ac­count­abil­ity tests, statewide scores re­leased Tues­day show, as per­for­mance across the state dropped slightly.

The share of Vir­ginia pub­lic school stu­dents who passed tests in five core sub­ject ar­eas fell com­pared with 2017-18 rates, ac­cord­ing to re­sults pub­lished on­line by the Vir­ginia De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion. The largest drop was his­tory, where stu­dents scored 4 per­cent­age points worse than they did last school year.

In read­ing, 78% of state stu­dents passed the Stan­dards of Learn­ing tests com­pared with 79% in 201718. Writ­ing saw a slight drop from 78% to 76% while sci­ence per­for­mance stayed virtually the same at an 81% pass rate.

State math scores im­proved 5 per­cent­age points from 77% to 82% in the first year of new math SOLs, which were ap­proved by the state Board of Ed­u­ca­tion in 2016.

“The achievemen­t in a school, a di­vi­sion or in the com­mon­wealth as a whole must be viewed in the con­text of th­ese changes in stu­dent test-tak­ing pat­terns, stan­dards and as­sess­ments,” Su­per­in­ten­dent of Pub­lic In­struc­tion James Lane said in a state­ment. “Th­ese changes were sig­nif­i­cant and per­for­mance on last year’s SOL tests marks the be­gin­ning of new trend lines in

math­e­mat­ics, sci­ence and his­tory.”

De­spite the statewide drop, more than 3 in 4 stu­dents passed in all five tests, ac­cord­ing to the data, which showed an aver­age statewide dip of 0.75 per­cent­age point.

Rich­mond again ranked among the low­est-per­form­ing sys­tems in the state, with pass rates be­low the state aver­age in ev­ery test area. The dis­trict did have gains in three of the five test ar­eas, with the big­gest im­prove­ment com­ing in math, where 56% of test-tak­ers passed this year com­pared with 52% last year.

The city school sys­tem took a hit in his­tory, fall­ing from a 62% pass rate last year to 55% this year.

“We’re ex­cited to see the growth in math­e­mat­ics, sci­ence, and writ­ing, but of course dis­ap­pointed by our read­ing and his­tory scores,” Su­per­in­ten­dent Jason Kam­ras said. “But this is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to con­tinue to build mo­men­tum, week by week, month by month, year by year.”

Rich­mond was the only lo­cal school dis­trict to see gains in more than one sub­ject.

Ch­ester­field County stu­dents’ scores were in line with the state av­er­ages, with no di­vi­sion aver­age ex­ceed­ing the state aver­age by more than 1 per­cent­age point.

Like Rich­mond, Ch­ester­field saw a de­crease in the num­ber of stu­dents pass­ing the his­tory tests (79% this year com­pared with 84% last year). Math was the only area in the county to im­prove (80% to 82%).

“It con­tin­ues to be im­por­tant that we don’t judge stu­dent achievemen­t based on a sin­gle test score,” School Board Chair­man Rob Thomp­son said in a state­ment. “A child’s suc­cess is bet­ter measured by how much they grow aca­dem­i­cally dur­ing the course of a sin­gle school year.”

Hen­rico County was be­low the state aver­age in four test ar­eas — read­ing, writ­ing, his­tory and math.

“We feel it’s im­por­tant to mea­sure our per­for­mance, cel­e­brate suc­cesses and ac­knowl­edge where there are ar­eas for growth,” said dis­trict spokesman Andy Jenks. “But we’re also mind­ful that stan­dard­ized tests rep­re­sent a snap­shot of a mo­ment in time.

“To us, it’s also mean­ing­ful to sup­port stu­dents as they grow aca­dem­i­cally, so­cially, and emo­tion­ally over time as we pre­pare them for life af­ter high school.”

Hanover County had the high­est pass rates in the area and was the only lo­cal school sys­tem to eclipse the state av­er­ages in ev­ery test sub­ject.

While Hanover was home to the best scores, it also had the largest achievemen­t gap among eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents. An eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged stu­dent was 18% less likely to pass the state read­ing test com­pared with the dis­trict aver­age.

“While we are pleased to learn that our stu­dents’ over­all per­for­mance re­mains high, we rec­og­nize that our work is never done,” said school sys­tem spokesman Chris Whit­ley. “We re­main com­mit­ted to meet­ing the unique aca­demic and so­cio-emo­tional needs of all learn­ers to help en­sure they reach their fullest po­ten­tial. We will con­tinue to eval­u­ate the align­ment of our re­sources, cur­ricu­lum, and pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment ef­forts to help close achievemen­t gaps fur­ther.”

Achievemen­t gaps per­sist across the re­gion and state. Black stu­dents in Vir­ginia fared at least 10 per­cent­age points worse in all five test ar­eas com­pared with the state aver­age. The big­gest gap was in writ­ing, where black stu­dents passed at rates 15 per­cent­age points lower.

Only one of Rich­mond’s seven mid­dle schools — Bin­ford — saw gains this year and Albert Hill re­mained the high­es­tachiev­ing mid­dle school with a 72% aver­age pass rate. Martin Luther King Jr. Mid­dle saw a 3.8 per­cent­age point de­crease and re­mains woe­fully be­hind its peers with a 25% pass rate.

Three in five of the city’s com­pre­hen­sive high schools had their scores drop. Thomas Jef­fer­son High School still has the high­est pass rate of the five at 64%.

Mary Mun­ford Ele­men­tary School posted a 91% aver­age pass rate, good for the high­est among ele­men­tary schools.

Fair­field Court Ele­men­tary School had the largest drop among city schools again this year, with its aver­age pass rate across the four tests it ad­min­is­ters de­clin­ing 25 per­cent­age points. The school has gone from hav­ing an 81% pass rate in 2016-17 to 21% this year.

The largest gains in the city were made in sci­ence at Westover Hills Ele­men­tary (24% to 65%).

Kam­ras, the Rich­mond su­per­in­ten­dent, said the dis­trict is adopt­ing new read­ing and math cur­ric­ula over the course of this year, among other things, in an ef­fort to im­prove stu­dent achievemen­t.

“I re­main bound­lessly op­ti­mistic about our fu­ture and can’t wait to start the 2019-20 school year,” he said.

The state im­ple­mented the Stan­dards of Learn­ing pro­gram in the mid-1990s af­ter in­ef­fec­tive re­form ef­forts and steep de­clines in stu­dent achievemen­t on “The Na­tion’s Re­port Card.” SOL test­ing started in 1998 and has been made more rig­or­ous by the Vir­ginia Board of Ed­u­ca­tion.

Vir­ginia al­lows par­ents to opt their stu­dents out of tak­ing SOL tests in ele­men­tary and mid­dle school. There is no con­se­quence to a stu­dent’s aca­demic stand­ing or ad­vance­ment to the next grade if they don’t take the test. The tests start to mat­ter on a stu­dent level in high school, when a stu­dent must pass the tests to grad­u­ate.

When a stu­dent doesn’t take an SOL test be­cause of an opt out, the score is re­ported as a “0,” mean­ing it could af­fect a school’s ac­cred­i­ta­tion rat­ing and over­all pas­sage rate. How many stu­dents opted out of the tests was not part of Tues­day’s data re­lease.

The scores don’t af­fect a school’s ac­cred­i­ta­tion rat­ing as much as they once did.

In 2017, the state Board of Ed­u­ca­tion up­dated its ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem in an ef­fort to rate schools on more than just test scores.

Last year was the first year ele­men­tary and mid­dle schools were eval­u­ated on pro­fi­ciency and growth in English read­ing and writ­ing achievemen­t, in­clud­ing the progress of the state’s English lan­guage learn­ers, as well as per­for­mance in math and sci­ence.

Achievemen­t gaps in English and math, along with ab­sen­teeism, are now also used to eval­u­ate those two school types.

The rat­ings for high schools de­pends on sim­i­lar fac­tors, but also in­cludes schools’ grad­u­a­tion rates and dropout rates. Start­ing in 2021, a school’s abil­ity to pre­pare stu­dents for col­lege and ca­reers will be weighted in the rat­ing.

The board also re­vised grad­u­a­tion rules so stu­dents need fewer SOL tests in or­der to grad­u­ate, although course re­quire­ments for both advanced and stan­dard stud­ies diplo­mas re­main the same. Those took ef­fect with last school year’s fresh­man class.

School rat­ings will be re­leased to­ward the end of Sep­tem­ber.

SOL re­sults can’t be used to judge aca­demic per­for­mance against other states be­cause they’re unique to Vir­ginia. Rather, the Na­tional As­sess­ment of Ed­u­ca­tional Progress, which is known as “The Na­tion’s Re­port Card,” is ad­min­is­tered to stu­dents in ev­ery state to make judg­ments across state lines.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­sults of last year’s NAEP — it’s ad­min­is­tered ev­ery other year — Vir­ginia pub­lic school stu­dents are above the na­tional aver­age.

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