With the release of the latest Standards of Learning pass rates by the Virginia Department of Education on Tuesday, Williamsburg-James City County and York County schools both have reason to celebrate, but challenges linger.
In both divisions, SOL test scores remained ahead of the state average, and in many cases showed signs of improvement. However, the most at-risk groups of students in both districts continue to lag behind their peers, and in some instances, their scores declined.
Scores across Virginia declined in nearly all subjects, in part as a result of the state’s efforts to make the SOL tests more rigorous, as well as last year’s revisions to school accountability standards and the introduction of new mathematics tests in all grade levels.
According to a statement from Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane, when reviewing the SOL results, understanding that you’re looking at a system in transition is important.
“The achievement in a school, a division or in the commonwealth as a whole must be viewed in the context of these changes in student test-taking patterns, standards and assessments,” Lane said. “These changes were significant and performance on last year’s SOL tests marks the beginning of new trend lines in mathematics, science and history.”
Despite the overall statewide decline, including an average statewide dip of 0.75 percentage points at the division level, more than 3 in 4 students passed in all five tests.
While SOL scores in the division remain ahead of state averages, they also largely reflected the state’s trend of gradual decline in most subjects and a dramatic increase in math scores under the new standards.
“I know there had been some schools that have had some struggles, and we’ve focused a lot of efforts on those schools since last year,” said Jim Kelly, W-JCC School Board member. “The gains we’ve seen are a good sign, but there’s still more that can be done.”
One such area is the achievement gap — the division continues to lag behind the state average on SOL test scores for black and Hispanic students, as well as English learners and students with disabilities. Scores dropped in some of these groups.
While not an issue unique to W-JCC given the new state accreditation standards use the achievement gap as a metric, these SOL scores are a sign that more work needs to be done to address the issue.
“There are absolutely some areas that still need our focus, the achievement gap being one of them,” Kelly said. “That’s why scores like this are useful. It’s data, and it gives us a chance to address areas of concerns, make improvements and better serve our students.”
Students in York County, as a whole, passed their SOLs at a higher rate than the state averages in the 2018-2019 academic year. That being said, York students’ pass rates were lower on three of the five tests compared to their results in the previous academic year.
“We are proud of the successes our students and teachers achieve year after year,” chief academic officer Stephanie Guy said in a statement. “Gains made division-wide in math, both overall and within each student subgroup, demonstrate our commitment to continuous improvement.”
York has enjoyed more success working to narrow the achievement gap than many school divisions in Virginia.
Scores for economically disadvantaged students and English learners saw increases over the past year as high as 30%. Conversely, scores for minority and disabled students dropped by an average 6%.
All York student subgroups improved their math SOL pass rates. Poor students improved by 5 percentage points to an 85% pass rate in the 2018-2019 school year. English learners improved by 12 points to an 88% pass rate. English learners also made notable progress in English writing, jumping from a 21% pass rate in 2017-2018 to a 58% pass rate in 2018-2019.
York chalked the success in math scores to several factors – among them the work of two math coaches and investment in manipulatives, or hands-on teaching tools, for K-8 students.
What does it mean?
Lane said VDOE will work with school divisions to improve problem areas and identify better practices and teaching methods, as well as to address widening achievement gaps seen even in divisions that otherwise saw high SOL test scores.
“School divisions must ensure that all children receive research-based reading instruction — beginning in kindergarten — that addresses their specific needs, and that students are reading at grade level by the end of the third grade,” Lane said. “This includes making sure that students read a variety of challenging content, including non-fiction and literature that expands vistas and vocabularies.”
This is part of why the new state standards for school accreditation now take more than just SOL scores and graduation rates into account; efforts to narrow the achievement gap or address chronic absenteeism are now part of the accreditation metrics. VDOE will announce school accreditation ratings for the 2019-2020 school year in September.
More information about the SOL tests during the 2018-19 school year can be found here.
W-JCC, York and statewide SOL averages 2018-19
» Reading: W-JCC - 81; York - 90; state average - 78
» Writing: W-JCC - 80; York - 84; state average -76
» History: W-JCC - 84; York - 88; state average - 80
» Math: W-JCC - 86; York - 92; state average - 82
» Science: W-JCC - 84; York - 90; state average - 81
W-JCC, York and statewide SOL averages 2017-18
» Reading: W-JCC - 82; York - 90; state average - 79
» Writing: W-JCC - 83; York — 87; state average – 78
» History: W-JCC - 84; York – 90; state average – 84
» Math: W-JCC - 79; York – 89; state average – 77
» Science: W-JCC - 85; York – 89; state average – 81
Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email email@example.com, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.