Expecting A Drop

State Officials Warn Of SOL Score Decline

Posted: July 12, 2013

HARRISONBURG — Standards of Learning scores will get worse before they get better, Virginia school officials are warning.

But as students get used to changes to the tests, scores will rebound with an added bonus, officials say: Students will be better prepared for postsecondary work or schooling.

Local administrators said they weren’t surprised by the warning or preliminary test results from the state, which show the passing rates’ decline.

“Anytime you have new tests it’s is not uncommon for a decline to occur,” said Charlette McQuilkin, director of student assessment for Rockingham County Public Schools.

The Virginia Department of Education, which administers the standardized SOL tests, is continuing an overhaul of the exam that all students are required to take. Scores on the tests are used as benchmarks for federal and state accountability systems that public schools must meet to avoid becoming subject to improvement measures.

The new tests are based on standards that were revised by the Virginia Board of Education in 2010. The standards are more rigorous, state schools officials say, to promote college and career readiness.

Last year, math exams received a new look and now students are taking more rigorous reading, writing and science SOLs starting this year.

In general, the questions require a “higher level” of thinking, McQuilkin said.

“It’s not just recall, it’s analyzing, synthesizing,” she said.

At the beginning of June, the VDOE released a first glimpse at just how the changing tests would affect passing rates. More dramatic drops in passing rates were seen when mathematics standards received an overhaul, but reading, writing and science pass rates also dropped.

Of students who took reading SOLs in December, January, February and March, 76 percent passed, compared to 83 percent who took the tests around the same time during the 2011-12 school year.

Passing rates on earth science, biology and chemistry tests decreased by at least 11 percent each.
Biology took the biggest hit, seeing a 14 percent decline in the number of students passing. For that SOL, 72 percent of students passed, compared to 86 percent in 2011-12.

Passing rates for the fifth-grade and eighth-grade writing exams declined by 17 percent and 18 percent, respectively. At both grade levels, 70 percent of students passed.

For now, McQuilkin and Harrisonburg City Schools Superintendent Scott Kizner are waiting to see how their divisions did once scores are released next month. Both expect students’ scores on sciences, reading and writing tests to go the way of their peers statewide.

 “We anticipate that our trend will be the same as the state,” Kizner said, “[But] our school division is going to only compare ourselves to our school division’s progress.

“We have a very unique student profile and it makes very little sense when you have five times the state average of English language learners, and almost twice as many students on free- and reduced lunch, to look at state numbers as a comparison.”

Added Rockingham County Schools Superintendent Carol Fenn: “There may be some decline in our scores, [a change] from what is the Rockingham norm, but we will embrace those challenges and move forward.”

Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or esharrer@dnronline.com