SHEN SCHOOL BUSES STOCK PHOTO

Shenandoah County School buses are lined up on the parking lot of Central High School in Woodstock.

The Virginia Department of Education released the 2020-2021 Standards of Learning tests results Thursday morning, and local public schools officials say they weren't surprised by the lower scores.

Students had to take most of their classes online for much of the 2020-2021 school year after Virginia established safety protocols to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. And because testing in 2019-2020 was canceled, the 2021 SOL tests were the first state assessments administered in two years.

In Warren County, the pass rates are 64% in English/reading, 49% in math and 48% in science. For 2018-2019, the results were 74% in English/reading, 77% in math and 77% in science.

In Shenandoah County, the pass rates are 58% in English/reading, 46% in math and 44% in science. For 2018-2019, the results were 67% in English/reading, 76% in math and 77% in science.

The statewide pass rates are 69% for reading/English, 54% for mathematics, and 59% for science. For 2018-2019, the results were 78% for reading/English, 82% for math and 81% for science.

Neither Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Melody Sheppard nor Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Christopher Ballenger returned calls for comment Thursday, although both issued press releases saying they expected the lower test results.

Ballenger's news release states that the latest results “represent the beginning of new trend lines for our student performance in all subject areas.”

“Because accreditation was waived for 2021-2022, SOL test data this year will serve as a tool to set a baseline for recovery and measure growth,” the release states. “SOL test results will help to make sure we know where students are in their learning right now so we can design plans to help them recover from the pandemic."

In Warren County, the SOL results will be used to give teachers, principals and administrators the data they need to determine where students are struggling in order to design instruction that meets their academic needs.

Federal pandemic relief funds helped the division add support coaches and assistants at every school, the release notes.

Shenandoah County Public Schools' news release also noted that federal CARES funds will make sure students have extra academic support for the next several years. Students will be able to get help before and after school.

Officials say that test scores shouldn't be compared to previous years or to those of other school divisions because of the extraordinary circumstances.

The 2020-2021 pass rates reflect disruptions to instruction caused by the pandemic, decreased participation in state assessment programs, pandemic-related declines in enrollment, fewer retakes of the test, and more flexible “opt-out” provisions for parents concerned about community spread of COVID-19, according to the state Department of Education.

In typical school years, statewide participation in federally required tests is around 99%. In 2021, 75.5% of students took the reading assessment, 78.7% took math, and 80% took science, according to the state education department release.

Shenandoah County Public Schools administered approximately 2,000 fewer tests in 2020-2021 than in a typical year before the pandemic. A waiver in response to the pandemic allowed divisions to give locally developed assessments in lieu of SOL tests in certain subjects. Shenandoah County schools gave local assessments for Virginia Studies and Grade 8 writing. The county also gave approximately 115 remote assessments that inform teachers and administrators as they help students complete unfinished learning from the 2020-2021 year. The SOL pass rates do not include these assessments.

Additionly, fewer students retook the SOL tests during 2020-2021, according to the Shenandoah County news release. Students are allowed to retake SOL tests if they fail their first attempt by a small margin. Retakes typically account for an up to 5% increase in school pass rates following first attempts.

Overall, the test results reflect a national trend in which certain groups of students — especially African American, Hispanic, disabled, English learning and economically disadvantaged students — fared worse on test.

"What matters now is where we go from here, and we will use the data from the SOL’s to identify the unique needs of every learner as our schools resume in-person instruction for all students,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said in a news release.

Visit https://www.doe.virginia.gov/statistics_reports/sol-pass-rates/index.shtml to see SOL test results.

– Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com