By SARAH BRADBURY
Student achievement in math Standards of Learning (SOL) tests first introduced two years ago has improved statewide, with 71 percent of students passing the mathematics assessment for their grade level or course. Students posted gains on all of the individual grade-level and end-of-course mathematics SOL tests, with the biggest increases in fourth, sixth, and seventh grades, and Algebra II.
Pulaski County Schools reflect this statewide achievement, showing improvement in fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade math, and end-of-course Algebra II. Advanced pass rates have increased in almost all grade-level and end-of-course tests in the county.
“In our second year, we are continuing to work on meeting the new math standards. Although we did see improvements in math scores from some of our elementary grades, we continue to address areas where adapting to new, high expectations has been a challenge,” said Thomas Brewster, superintendent of Pulaski County Schools.
He says there was, however, a continued decline in Algebra I test scores. “We are using data to identify students who still need help, and we’ve built in time in the school day for acceleration or remediation.” Brewster says Algebra I is also being offered as a year-long course, as opposed to a semester block. “We are making similar adjustments in other areas where improvements are needed.”
The online mathematics SOL tests taken by most Virginia students include technology-enhanced items that mirror classroom instruction and assignments. The items require students to apply mathematical knowledge and critical-thinking skills in solving multistep problems. Multiple-choice items on the tests also reflect the increased rigor of the mathematics standards adopted by the Board of Education in 2009.
“The improved performance of students on these challenging and innovative tests shows that we are moving in the right direction,” Board of Education President David M. Foster said.
“The higher pass rates achieved by students in many rural, urban and suburban divisions suggest that the state board has not put the bar out of reach. I believe we would be selling our students short if we were to retreat by weakening the SOL program.”
The English and science SOL tests students took during 2012-2013 were the first to reflect the increased rigor of revised standards adopted in these subject areas by the Board of Education in 2010. Last year also marked the debut of online SOL writing tests, although all schools participated in a statewide field test of the assessments during 2011-2012.
As expected, pass rates on the new tests were lower than in 2011-2012 on the now-retired assessments based on the 2002 English SOL and 2003 Science SOL. Pulaski County Schools also follow this new trend, with all scores for reading and writing tests dropping in all grade-level and end-of-course tests.
“There were declines in our reading and writing scores that reflect changes in the new state standards,” said Brewster. “Our curriculum and instruction team and teachers are working hard to address areas where changes and additional resources are needed.”
On the high school reading test, students in 118 divisions in the state achieved pass rates of 80 percent or higher, and all divisions administering the test achieved pass rates of 70 percent or higher. On the high school writing test, students in 107 divisions in the state achieved pass rates of 80 percent or higher, and 128 achieved pass rates of 70 percent or higher. Pulaski County High School achieved a pass rate of 81 in reading, and of 76 in writing.
“The results of the new English and science tests begin new trend lines,” Wright said. “Students are now being challenged by the standards to achieve new levels of mastery at each grade level and to apply what they have learned on assessments that are very different from the traditional multiple-choice tests people often associate with the SOL program.”
In the elementary and middle school grades, at least seven out of 10 students earned passing scores in reading and writing statewide. The state superintendent predicted that reading and writing achievement will increase as schools align curriculum and instruction with the new standards. “Strengthening early reading and adolescent literacy will impact learning in all areas,” Wright said.
In science, 81 percent of students passed their grade-level or end-of-course tests (Biology, Chemistry and Earth Science). The highest pass rates were on the grade-3 test and the high school tests. Students must pass at least one end-of-course science test to earn a Standard Diploma and at least two for an Advanced Studies Diploma. Pulaski County Schools did see a decrease in all science scores.
Statewide, achievement increased by one point on two of the four end-of-course tests (Virginia and U.S. History, Geography, World History I and World History II) high school students take to earn verified credits for graduation. Pulaski County schools showed slight increases in U.S. History I and II, World History I and II, and third grade history, with decreases in Civics and Economics, Virginia and U.S. History, with no change in Virginia Studies scores.
“Even with three-year averaging mitigating the impact of the new tests, we will see some schools slip from Fully Accredited to Accredited with Warning,” Wright predicted. “I hope parents will view these accreditation changes in the context of the state raising standards so that their children — regardless of where they live — will be better prepared for the challenges of postsecondary education and the realities of global competition.”
Wright said VDOE will continue to provide training and resources related to the revised standards and assessments in all content areas. This includes weekly TeacherDirect email alerts to teachers about new SOL-related resources and professional development opportunities.
State accreditation and federal accountability reports will be issued next month, along with updated school and division report cards.