SOL scores announced amid wind of change

The Virginia Department of Education’s release of Standards of Learning pass rates Wednesday showed that Albemarle County Public Schools students surpassed the state average in each subject tested.

The same report also showed that Charlottesville City Schools students dipped below state averages in four of the five subjects, though the average shortfall was only percentage points.

Wednesday’s report provided information on the percentage of students who passed SOL tests in math, reading, writing, science and history.

“While we view the SOLs as one measure of success, it’s important for people to know that the SOLs do provide a standard…they give us some benchmarks,” said Billy Haun, Albemarle’s assistant superintendent.

Administered by VDOE, the SOLs list what students should know after completing each grade level. Starting in 3rd grade and continuing through high school, students take end-of-year SOL exams in core content areas.

In Albemarle this year, 77 percent of students passed their math tests, compared to 76 last year.

Charlottesville’s math pass rate improved by 5 points, from 70 last year to 75 percent this year. Algebra I, II and 8th grade math saw the steepest improvements, in which students posted pass rates of 9, 10 and 26, respectively.

Beth Cheuk, Charlottesville’s community relations liaison, said the jump is the result of piloting an instructional coaching model at Buford Middle School.

This year, pass rates in reading, writing and science remained relatively flat throughout the Commonwealth.

Charlottesville School Board Chair Juandiego Wade called for SOL reform during a press conference in December. 

In Albemarle, 78 percent passed the reading test, which mirrors last year’s number, and surpasses the 74 percent state average.

In Charlottesville, 73 percent passed the reading tests, which was up from last year’s 71 percent.

Albemarle’s writing pass rate dropped 3 points, from 82 percent last year, to 79 percent this year, but still exceeded the state average of 75.

In Charlottesville, writing numbers jumped from 68 percent last year, to 70 percent this year.

Albemarle students topped the science state average of 80 by two points, though that number is down from last year’s 84 percent.

In Charlottesville, 78 percent of students passed, compared to 76 percent last year. Grade 8 science pass rates, however, plummeted 24 points.

That drop, Cheuk said, is because the division offered 8th graders the chance to take earth science for high school credit. This resulted in only a small pool of students taking 8th grade science, which made the group more susceptible to a variation in their scores.

Earth science pass rates in Charlottesville, however, jumped by 17 points.

In history, Virginia students passed 84 percent of their tests. In Albemarle, 85 percent passed, compared to 87 percent last year. In Charlottesville, 83 percent passed, compared to 84 percent last year.

Despite the flood of hard data, both school divisions are making a push toward project-based learning and assessments that move away from fact-repetition and multiple choice tests.

“We think it’s more authentic and it develops transferable skills and critical thinking,” Cheuk said. “Working on real-life problems is a way to make learning more meaningful than preparing for a one-time test.”

Haun agreed.

“If you look in the school improvement plans from five years ago, the goal was to increase SOL scores,” Haun said. “Now…it won’t be totally SOL scores. It will be one of the measures, but not the only one.”

Next month, Haun is headed to Richmond to take over as VDOE’s chief academic officer, where he said the momentum to continue revising the SOL tests is there.

“In the last General Assembly session five SOLs were taken away, which is huge,” Haun said. “Superintendent Staples is anxious to get it right and create some alternative assessments.”

State accreditation ratings will be issued next month.