County SOL scores drop

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23 of 34 categories have decrease

By Tom Wilmoth

Though scores were expected to drop in some categories compared to last year’s scores—because of a new series of tests in science and English—student achievement on Standards of Learning tests for students in Bedford County Public Schools fell below what school officials had hoped.
    In results released last week, average pass rates of Bedford County students dropped in 23 categories for the 2012-2013 testing while increasing in seven; four remained even with results from the 2011-2012 testing.
    Scores for students in grades four through eight did increase in mathematics which was expected. New math tests were introduced last year leading to a statewide decrease in the 2011-2012 testing. Even so, math scores for third graders as well as end-of-course testing in Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry all fell in the 2012-2013 testing.
    All 10 of the English-related testing scores dropped as did all of the six science testing categories.
    “It definitely shows the new SOL tests are more rigorous,” stated Mark Blankenship, supervisor of testing and planning  for  BCPS. “That’s  the   way they were advertised.”
    Scores in two of the history/social science tests did increase, three dropped and four stayed the same. Even those scores were disappointing.  “The rebound has been slow,” Blankenship said. “It’s a concern that we have not seen the increases that the state has seen (overall).”
    New tests were introduced in those areas two years ago and school officials had hoped they would see more improvement there.
    Blankenship said it can take some time for teachers and staff to adjust to the new tests. “We don’t want to teach to the tests but we do want to cover all the SOLs (on them),” he said. “Every time they roll out new SOLs we see a drop in test scores.”
    Compared to state pass rate results, Bedford County students fell below state average pass rate results on 30 of the 34 tests; county students scored above the state average on three tests and the same on one.
    On some of the tests, county students scored well below the state average. Those included: the end-of-course World History II test (85 percent pass rate statewide to 74 percent in Bedford County); Grade 3 Math (65 percent statewide to 50 percent); Grade 7 Math (61 percent statewide to 48 percent); Grade 8 Math (61 percent statewide to 35 percent); end-of-course Algebra I (76 percent statewide to 57 percent); end-of-course Algebra II (76 percent statewide to 49 percent); end-of-course Geometry (76 percent statewide to 64 percent); Grade 8 Science (76 percent statewide to 58 percent); and end-of-course Chemistry (86 percent statewide to 71 percent).
    County students scored above the state average in Grades 6 and 7 Reading and Grade 5 Science.
    “I think we’re learning a lot about how the kids need to be instructed,” Blankenship said. That could mean longer classes in some areas.
    The tests are used at both the state and federal level to determine accreditation for the school system and individual schools. Those results are expected to be released in September.

End-of -course tests
    Some of the tests are also used as graduation benchmarks. “That’s a big concern,” Blankenship said. “The students need to pass the tests in order to graduate.”
    Students seeking a standard diploma must pass one math, science and history/social studies end-of-course test as well as the reading and writing end-of-course tests. The students must also pass an elective SOL test.
    Students seeking an advanced diploma must pass two end-of-course tests in math, history/social studies and science as well as the reading and writing end-of-course tests, along with one elective.
    Eleven end-of-course tests are given.

    Five Bedford County schools are currently classified as schools accredited with warning under state standards: Bedford Middle School, Stewartsville Elementary, Body Camp Elementary, Staunton River High School and Staunton River Middle School. These ratings for the 2012-13 school year are based on the test results from 2011-12. Sixteen schools were fully accredited. A new state law could mean state takeover of schools falling under the accredited with warning status for three straight years by the state.
    In addition, 11 Bedford County schools did not meet all of the annual measurable objectives under the federal guidelines last year. Those schools included: Bedford Elementary, Bedford Primary, Bedford Middle, Big Island Elementary, Body Camp Elementary, Goodview Elementary, Huddleston Elementary, Montvale Elementary, Staunton River Middle, Stewartsville Elementary and Thaxton Elementary.
    “We expect the lists to change,” Blankenship said of the SOL testing scores just released.

Examining the scores
    Blankenship said the school system has its work to do to help raise students’ scores. “I think it’s doable,” he said.
    He said school officials look at trends and attempt to address areas as those are identified.
    The results have been provided to school board members, as well, and the instruction department has been reviewing the results. “It’s early in the year so we’re planning on how to address these (concerns),” Blankenship said. “We’re looking for strengths in them, too.”
    He said when a particular school or class is doing well in an area that others might be struggling, the rest of the school system can benefit from those instruction successes.
    “We’re sharing that information with others,” he said.
    This year, SOL testing will be held in April. Blankenship believes the new school calendar will allow for more instruction time prior to that testing.

State results
    Statewide, 71 percent of students passed the mathematics assessment for their grade level or course, compared with 68 percent during 2011-2012. Students posted gains on all of the individual grade-level and end-of-course mathematics SOL tests, with the biggest increases in grades 4, 6, 7 and Algebra II.
    “I am so proud of the thousands of teachers in school divisions across this diverse state whose focus on critical thinking and problem solving — as well as mathematics content knowledge — prepared students to increase their achievement on these rigorous assessments,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said. “Raising standards is difficult, but well worth the effort. We are asking students to meet higher expectations so that when they graduate, they will be ready for college and the work force.”   
    “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 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.
    On each of the nine mathematics SOL tests, more than half of Virginia’s 132 school divisions saw increases in student achievement, including on the end-of-course tests (Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II) students must pass to earn diplomas.
    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.
    “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.”
    Seventy-five percent of students passed the reading test for their grade level, and 76 percent passed in writing. The highest pass rates were on the reading and writing tests most high school students take in their junior year. Students must pass these two tests to earn a Standard or Advanced Studies diploma. There is no limit on the number of times a student may take a test he or she needs to pass to earn a diploma.
    In the elementary and middle school grades, at least seven out of 10 students earned passing scores in reading and writing. 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.
    The percentage of students statewide passing grade-level or end-of-course tests in history/social science during 2012-2013 was 85 percent, the same as in 2011-2012.  The Board of Education’s adoption of revised history/social science standards in 2008 and the introduction of more rigorous history/social science tests in 2010-2011 marked the beginning of the change of focus of the SOL program from minimum grade-level standards to college and career readiness.
    Statewide, achievement increased by one point on two of the four end-of-course tests.