Testing data shows mixed results for local schools

Standardized testing data released by the Virginia Department of Education Tuesday showed overall progress for most schools in Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville.

The annual report documents if schools and school divisions are meeting Virginia’s two accountability systems.

Accreditation is the state system that evaluates whether or not schools achieved or surpassed pass rates on math, English, science and history Standards of Learning exams from the previous years.

The second system, Annual Measurable Objectives, meets federal guidelines and was designed to reduce proficiency gaps between student groups in math and reading.

“Overall, the SOL data portrays a pattern of success, along with opportunities for growth,” said Charlottesville spokeswoman Beth Cheuk. “Most of our schools and most of the smaller indicators within the schools show us meeting or exceeding the state pass rates, particularly in the ‘advanced pass’ categories of students who show solid mastery of the material.”

All Albemarle County and Charlottesville City schools received accreditation for the 2014-2015 school year, although several schools were accredited with a warning.

County schools that received this warning include Agnor-Hurt, Yancey, Greer and Stone Robinson elementary schools, as well as the Community Public Charter School and Walton Middle School.

Clark Elementary School and Walker Upper Elementary School received the same status in Charlottesville.

Schools that earn full accreditation post pass rates of 75 percent in reading and writing, and 70 percent in math, science and history.

Albemarle spokesman Phil Giaramita said the results are “reasonably strong.”

“Our students took a total of 37 SOL tests, and their scores exceeded the state average for about 70 percent of these tests,” Giaramita said. “So around the state they’ve done pretty well.”

“If you look at the accreditation numbers statewide, about 68 percent of the schools were accredited, and our county was 78 percent,” Giaramita added, “so we’re about 10 points higher than the state average there.”

More rigorous SOL standards have also contributed to these results. 

“The pace of implementing these new standards has been very fast, and we’re seeing that schools across the state are drawing the same line—that it will take a little more time for all of our students to meet these higher standards,” Cheuk said.

Neither division, however, met federal accountability standards.

These targets are designed to highlight progress based on demographic subgroups of students who are black and Hispanic, have disabilities, are economically disadvantaged or are English language learners.

This plan’s goal is to ensure that, by 2018, all subgroups are posting pass rates of 73 on math tests and 78 on reading tests.

Eight of 26 Albemarle County schools met all of their AMOs, along with three of the nine Charlottesville City schools.

Schools that do not achieve accreditation become Focus Schools for two years. They then receive special attention from a central office team comprised of administrators and former teachers designated as “lead coaches.”

“These lead coaches know the atmosphere, the teachers and the students, and their work is the basis of what we want to do,” said Charlottesville School Board chair Juandiego Wade. “They will be able to go to the schools and really work hands-on.”

“It’s going to be someone who will be in that school every day and know the culture just like a regular teacher world,” Wade added. “We’ll put extra resources in the school, whether it’s additional staff or whatever they need.”

Giaramita said one aspect the central office staff will be focused on is reading, since students who struggle with that skillset have difficulties learning in other subjects.

Officials from both Charlottesville and Albemarle emphasized that although SOL scores are important, they are not the ultimate measure to be used for a child’s education.

“To keep it in perspective, SOL tests provide a one-time-only snapshot,” Giaramita said. “You get a picture of a student’s performance one day of the year.”

Giaramita added that project-based learning and a more hands-on approach can serve as a better assessment of overall education.

“It’s not just memorizing answers to a multiple choice test, but students developing portfolios of their work, working together in teams, being creative and designing projects,” he said. “We think in that kind of an environment, the learning is deeper.”