Loudoun County has received mixed results from this past school year's SOL tests, with students' scores increasing or staying the same in 18 different tests, but decreasing in 16 others.
However, the decrease was not unanticipated.
With the Virginia Board of Education unveiling more rigorous science, reading and writing tests, similar to the harder math tests that were introduced last year, both local and state education leaders were prepared for a slight decrease in test scores.
“The results of the new English and science tests begin new trend lines,” Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright said in a press release. “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.”
The largest Loudoun drop came in fourth grade reading, where the passing rate fell from 90 percent to 78 percent. State passing rates for the same test fell from 88 percent to 70 percent.
Locally, other tests such as biology and chemistry saw a modest 3 percent decrease in passing rates, compared to the state decrease of 9 percent and 7 percent, respectively.
Sharon Ackerman, assistant superintendent for instruction for Loudoun County Public Schools, noted that while scores did go down for some of Loudoun's students, the decrease was not as dramatic as in other school districts.
“We contained our losses better,” Ackerman said. “It tends to happen when you make the tests more rigorous. Schools will adjust.”
While last year saw a decrease in math scores when a new, harder test was introduced, students in both Loudoun and the state overall improved this year. The state and Loudoun County saw increases in the percent of students passing the SOL from the 2011-2012 school year to the 2012-2013 school year.
Although all math scores in Loudoun increased, a blemish still came in the eighth grade math test, where the percentage of students passing went from 33 percent in 2011-2012 to 39 percent in 2012-2013. The state average is 61 percent passing and no other Loudoun test has passing rates below 77 percent.
Ackerman noted that a small portion of students even take math 8 in Loudoun County – most are at more advanced mathematical levels.
"The thing to remember is the tests are called grade 8, grade 7 but 80 percent of our eighth graders are in algebra one or higher,” Ackerman said. “Their pass rates are in the algebra one or geometry pass rate, not the math 8.”
Ackerman added that many of the students in math 8 are English Language Learners or Special Education students – two groups that tend to not test as well.
Still, she said LCPS is working to improve the scores.
“We are already at work planning for a real audit of those eighth grade classrooms to see how we can support the teachers there,” Ackerman said. “We need to see what else we can do to support them. There's no reason it should be as low as 39 percent.”
Fairfax, Fauquier and Prince William counties have math 8 pass rates of 78, 68 and 75 percent, respectively.
The SOL scores will be used to help determine the state accreditation and accountability reports, as well as updated school and division report cards. The reports will all be issued next month.
In the press release on the Virginia DOE website, Wright warns parents not to worry too much about the reports.
“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 stated. "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 post-secondary education and the realities of global competition."