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Posted August 14, 2012 | comments 4 Comments

Region, state struggle with math SOLs

By Kim Walter and Jeb Inge -- kwalter@nvdaily.com, jinge@nvdaily.com

After the Virginia Department of Education released Standards of Learning passing rates by division, grade and subject on Tuesday, it was clear that the new math test proved most challenging for local students.

The 2011-2012 academic year was the first in which students were tested under revised and more rigorous math standards, which were aimed at college and career preparation.

David M. Foster, president of the state's Board of Education, said it wasn't a surprise that math scores were lower than in past years.

"We knew it would be a transition year," he said Tuesday. "The tests were more rigorous in content, and focused greatly on problem solving, critical thinking and the ability to use technology. The students need to be a part of the 21st century set of standards."

Peter J. Vernimb, Frederick County Public Schools assistant superintendent for instruction, explained that the testing format was new to elementary age students. All parts of the math test were done on the computer, as opposed to previous years when students could use paper and their own tools to solve problems.

The heavy focus on technology may have been the reason that students took much longer than the normal one hour to complete the assessment.

"Do we need third and fourth graders taking a four-hour long test," Vernimb asked. "The reality is, no, we don't."

"When new standards and tests are implemented, it takes time to get the scores you desire," said Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent David Sovine. "This year's math scores are artificially low."

Region struggles against state math averages

While students across Virginia struggled in mathematics, students in counties through the northern Shenandoah Valley struggled slightly more on average.

In Warren County, 63.2 percent of students passed the math exam, a 20.8 percent drop, and 4.6 percent below the state average.

This and all averages included represent across-the-board tests from all tested grade levels in the respective counties. Scores in one school may be higher or lower than others in the county, but each number represents a county-wide average.

Clarke County posted the poorest math results in the region, with 56.9 percent of students passing their exams. This is 10.9 percent below the state average passing rate of 67.8 percent.

Winchester City and Frederick County schools posted a 62.3 and 60.7 passing rate in mathematics respectively. Those rates are 5.5 and 7.1 percent below the state average.

In Page County, students posted a 68.1 passing rate, which is slightly higher than the state average. Shenandoah County matched the state average with 63.2 percent of Warren County students passing the test -- 4.6 percent lower than the state average.

"We do have work to do at the elementary and middle school levels in math, but there were a large number of students right on the edge of passing," Sovine said. "These final numbers, while important, don't tell the whole story. We're really interested in what happened in the classroom."

Foster explained that many school divisions most likely will use the three-year averaging rule, which is used to mitigate one year of jumps or dips in SOL scores.

"We hope to see improvements, but these raw numbers are what we expected," he said.

The state's superintendent of public instruction, Patricia I. Wright, called Tuesday's release "both disappointing and encouraging news."

"Of course it's disappointing that the results in math are not higher," she said. "On the other end, in 2006 when the sixth and seventh grade math test was introduced, the first year of assessments were rather low. So while this year's are low, they aren't as low as they were in 2006. With more intense focus, these standards are attainable...ambitious, but attainable."

Wright said she hopes the results are a wake-up call to anyone who really believes that the state only "tinkered around the edges" when revising the math test. As for where the state goes from here to bring scores back up, Wright said any schools that didn't do well would be on a watch list to be monitored on the state and federal levels.

"For all those who believe we need to pour more test practice items into the field, the teachers have said that test prep is not the answer," she said.

Foster cautioned the public and parents against making conclusions about schools' accreditation based on the released pass rates.

"It's test by test and student by student that will make a difference," he said.

Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent B. Keith Rowland had similar comments, and said "accreditation is just a statement."

"We're dealing with a new rigor in math and a new textbook series, but that's no excuse," he said of the passing rates. "In the past we have proven that we can make adjustments and succeed. It just takes time to overcome these things when tests and standards change."

Other SOL results throughout the region

In Warren County, 87.6 percent of students passed reading assessments, the same amount that passed the year before. Eighty-five percent passed their writing assessments, up 3 percent from 2010-2011. In history and social sciences, 83.6 percent of students posted passing scores, a drop of 0.5 percent. Science results remained the same with 91.3 percent of students passing.

In Shenandoah County, 87.6 percent of students passed reading tests, nearly the same amount as in 2010-2011. Writing scores also remained nearly the same, with 87.7 percent passing. History and social sciences scores improved in the county however, with 85.3 percent passing their exams -- up 2.4 percent from the previous year. Science scores remained almost the same, with 92.1 percent passing.

In Frederick County, 88 percent of students passed their reading and history/social science exams. Scores in the latter are up 2.4 percent from the previous year, and 3.4 percent higher than the state average. Eighty-six percent of students passed their writing exams, down 2 percent from the previous year, and 91.3 percent passed the science exams, a decrease of almost 1 percent from 2010-2011.

Winchester city schools posted the single biggest growth in a subject over the previous year, with 86.7 percent of students passing their writing exams -- a 6 percent growth since 2010-2011. History and social science scores posted a 79.8 percent passing rate. Eighty-eight percent of students passed their science exams, a growth of almost 3 percent from the previous year. While scores in Winchester schools (with the exception of math) posted improvements from the previous year, every single category remains behind Virginia averages.

Clarke County students boasted the strongest science scores across the region, with 94 percent of students passing exams. That's 4 percent more than the state average. County students also boasted the highest percentage of success in writing, with 90 percent of students passing. Eighty-five percent passed their history/social science exams, and 87.7 percent passed in reading, a 2.4 percent decrease from the previous year, and 1.4 percent lower than the state average.

In Page County, reading and history scores are on the rise, with students passing at a rate of 86 and 85.8 percent respectively. And while writing scores (80.7 percent passing) remain nearly the same as the previous year, they still trail the Virginia average by 8.6 percent. Eighty-eight percent of students passed science SOLs, 2.3 percent fewer than last year, and 2.7 percent less than the Virginia average.

With the exception of mathematics, passing rates on the state level remained largely the same as the previous year. An average of 89 percent of students across Virginia passed their reading exams; 89.3 percent passed writing exams; and 84.9 percent passed the history/social sciences exams. The largest success rate continues to come in science, with 90.8 percent of students passing, a 0.6 percent increase over the previous year.

The state will release accreditation ratings based on passing rates and several other measures at the end of September.

4 Comments | Leave a comment

    SOLs are a cancer to schools and education. The amount of time and money spent on these tests is great and without benefit. The voting public needs to work with out politicians to enhance NCLB to better implement the education standards in our schools so that our students can receive the education that they want and need in order to be successful in life.

    You are so right mtolive! I wish they'd do away with those SOL's all together! Teachers had so much more freedom of what and how they taught their students. Learning used to be fun! Now it's all "teach by the test". Kindergartners are taking a test that's basically the SOL, but it's called something different (PALS?). These kids are put under so much stress and pressure to pass these tests, it's ridiculous. The amount of homework in elementary school is mindblowing. The No Child Left Behind Act is a joke.

    No Child Left Behind was another "feel good" slogan, a quick fix turned into law for the public schools. This was another contribution from George W. Bush and his administration has left us in the great mess we have today. Has anyone noticed the Republicans throwing his name around these days?

    Teachers must spend nearly all their time and effort on teaching to the test: they are information coaches forcing students to merely memorize facts. Standardized testing is a joke and it's not working.

    Classrooms continue to grow larger as teachers lose authority over the classroom. Everyone seems to be running scared these days: schools are afraid of losing funding, teachers are afraid of saying the wrong thing, principals are jumping through hoops to keep the parents happy to avoid lawsuits.

    I can't imagine why anyone would even want to teach anymore. Our public school system use to work, once upon a time.

    Whether you like the tests or not, this is a metric that sticks out so bad that you cannot hide from it. Math is obviously not being taught adaquately! I am sure the teachers have the knowledge to teach basic math, so where is the problem?

    I cannot offer any suggestions to fix the problem as I am not in the teaching profession. I am an engineer and feel I had a very good line of math teachers growing up in WV.

    Have the methods changed? Is less time in the grade school classroom devoted to math? Are teachers having trouble relating the use of math in the real world?

    I wish I could help this epidemic as it saddens me to know that if this trend continues, the US will fall even further behind rest of the developed the world.


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