Charlottesville and Albemarle County public school students have lower pass rates on state exams since the pandemic
The COVID-19 lockdown was a challenge to students’ academic success, and the just released statewide assessment scores show that Charlottesville City and Albemarle County Public Schools are seeing these challenges amplified for some of their most marginalized students.
The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) delayed its release of its assessment scores for the 2022-2023 school year — usually released in August but this year released in mid-September — but the statewide results are clear: Students, across a majority of demographics and subjects, are making slight to significant improvements in test scores since returning to in-person learning, but many, especially non-white students, continue to struggle in testing on core topics, such as reading, math and science.
But Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s public schools have some of the greatest disparities of pass rates in the state, said Michele Claibourn, the director of equitable analysis for the University of Virginia’s Equity Center. The Center’s June 2023 Stepping Stones report is an analysis of the well-being of Charlottesville and Albemarle children and families using data sets, including SOL data that goes back to 2005. In the longer data, the report shows how revisions to the math and reading exams in 2012 and 2013, for example, led to declines in pass rates.
“Charlottesville and Albemarle have some of the biggest gaps in the state, but we want everyone to know that the current school systems’ resources are not sufficient to see students thriving,” said Claibourn. “It’s about closing these gaps that we observe among all these students.”
You can look up data for your school or district, including data and charts about SOL results, using this VDOE Virginia School Quality Profiles explorer. For example, here are the assessments for Charlottesville City Schools and here are the assessments for Albemarle County Public Schools. You can also find more charts and data visualizations in the UVA Equity Center’s Stepping Stones Report.
You can also meet candidates for Charlottesville City Schools Board at an Oct. 18 forum, hosted by Charlottesville Tomorrow and Charlottesville United for Public Education. Here’s more information about the forum.
Albemarle County schools have seen pass rates decline for Black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged populations in topics such as reading and math, while chronic absenteeism has risen. Overall, the schools have pass rates the same or higher than state averages in some areas, including reading and history.
“While some pass rates were modestly higher this year, there’s no question that, overall, these scores are far off the mark when it comes to ensuring that all of our students are learning at their highest level,” Dr. Chandra Hayes, Albemarle County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, said in a news release.
Albemarle County school officials have proposed various initiatives to improve the test scores of schools that are falling behind state averages. At its Sept. 14 school board meeting, Patrick McLaughlin, Assistant Superintendent for Strategic Planning, said they are hoping to add more staff and implement “monitoring tools” to identify and track students’ development. For all schools, McLaughlin plans to include the recommendations proposed in the Bellwether report, which was produced by education consulting firm Bellwether Education Partners this spring and presented to the board in June.
Last year, Charlottesville City Schools scores had lower pass rates compared to the state in all assessment categories for all demographics, except for white students. The school board acknowledged the gaps, and says they’re embedding measures to improve student’s academic achievement in their strategic plan.
“The data is clear, whether it’s the SOL or not, we’re not serving all of the students,” said Emily Dooley, a Charlottesville City school board member, at their Oct. 5 public meeting.
Three City Schools — Clark Elementary School, Walker Upper Elementary School and Buford Middle School — were accredited with conditions, because of the disparities in their assessment results. Albemarle County Schools also had three schools that were accredited with conditions: Red Hill Elementary School, Mary Carr Greer Elementary and Woodbrook Elementary School.
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According to the assessments, each school has poor results for chronic absenteeism, and results in English reading and writing, mathematics or science. If a school is denied accreditation, they could lose their license to operate.
Surrounding counties are catching up to, and sometimes surpassing, state averages in SOL scores. Many Nelson and Louisa County public school students are showing improvements from their COVID-19 lockdown SOL scores and are getting higher scores than neighboring school divisions. Many groups of students in Greene County Public School students, however, are performing below state averages.
Madison County Public School fared similar to Charlottesville City and Albemarle County schools — one of their schools was also accredited with conditions and their Black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students are scoring below state averages. The disparity in average scores for Black students in Fluvanna County Public Schools is high; they have seen slight increases in test scores, particularly in math, but decreases, in reading, writing and history scores.