SOL pass rates mixed
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Sep 4, 2013, 15:07
The Virginia Department of Education recently released the Standards of Learning pass rates for the 2012-2013 school year. School districts in the Tri-Cities, including Hopewell and Petersburg, saw gains in math scores, while there were significant drops in reading and writing scores. While both school divisions are celebrating the gains, steps are in place to recoup the losses.
About a week prior to the scores being released, Hopewell City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John Fahey, stood before City Council at the meeting on Aug. 13 to give a school division recap for the 2012-2013 school year. He shared the accomplishments and the goals of the division going into the next school year, including one of the biggest goals, graduation.
Hopewell should “have the highest quality education for our students and I highlighted the word graduation,” Fahey said during the presentation. “That has been a target for the state of Virginia, for Hopewell and it’s a target I think we’ve done quite well on.”
The on-time graduation rate for last year was 85.6 percent.
“I’m really proud considering years ago it was very low,” Fahey said of the graduation rate in the city. “It’s getting better and it’s going to get better. When we focus on something in Hopewell we get results.”
However, before the students can walk across the stage, they have to complete the SOL tests. Fahey told council the tests this year were more difficult for students and had taken a turn from the old fashioned into the future, from a pencil and paper test to computers.
“Every test, every single test our students take, all 38 tests that they have to take for the state accreditation are done on computers now,” Fahey said. “... Even the writing test is done on a computer.”
Prior to the pass rates being released, Fahey gave a preliminary wrap up for the school year, noting there were math gains at Hopewell High School of 22 percent, including the Algebra II pass rate, which was up 50 percent.
This was reflected when the official scores were released about a week later. For instance, at HHS, the end of course test for Algebra II was a 64 percent pass rate as compared to a 38 percent pass rate for the last school year.
“The newly released data showed some areas of real improvement, especially in our math scores. Math scores were up significantly in all of our schools. It is encouraging to see student math scores at Hopewell High showed the greatest growth. This demonstrates that when we focus on an area, we get results,” read a statement released by Fahey following the posting of the SOL scores from the prior school year.
Overall math scores improved statewide, with 71 percent of students passing their test, compared with 68 percent during 2011-2012.
Apart from the gains, there were some losses for the city of Hopewell. At Carter G. Woodson Middle School, there were losses across all grade levels for the English reading and writing SOL tests. For grade 6, for the reading test, the pass rate for the 2012-2013 school year was 54 percent as compared to 84 percent for last year. For the grade 8 writing SOL test, the pass rate for this year was 50 percent as compared to 78 percent last year.
“The new reading and writing tests were very, very challenging this year, not only for students in Hopewell, but all across the commonwealth. Some of the new test formats will take getting used to by all test takers. When I show released items to educators from out of state, they marvel at the complexity,” Fahey wrote.
Statewide, 75 percent of students passed the reading test for their grade level, and 76 percent passed in writing.
Hopewell schools are also taking at look at areas where improvements can be made. One of the biggest changes will be to the school day for students. Students at Hopewell schools will be going to school an extra 20 minutes a day. This is to increase time spent in core subjects, such as reading and math.
“We have a later start time and we’re keep them a little longer,” Fahey told council of the new schedule for middle school students in the city. “We are doubling the amount of math and the amount of reading our students will get. ...We’ve got a lot of work to do but we’ve made some great strides even in our first year.”
Petersburg City Public Schools also showed some areas of gains and losses with the SOL tests. The school division gained six percentage points in history, according to a press release from the school system. The release also reported that math scores stayed consistent, while, not unlike the city of Hopewell, reading and writing scores dropped.
At Peabody Middle School, for grade 6, for the English, reading test, there was a pass rate of 40 percent as compared to 76 percent last year. One of the biggest drops was at Robert E. Lee Elementary in terms of the grade 4 English reading test; the pass rate for this past school year was 27 percent, while last year the pass rate was 89 percent.
“We must do a better job with preparing our students for SOL testing. They deserve a top-notch education and that’s what we’re here to provide,” said Dr. Joseph Melvin, superintendent.
Petersburg schools said that Melvin, who is the newly appointed superintendent of the division, has implemented some changes that he hopes will bring the SOL scores up across all subjects in all schools. For example, one of the new changes will be accountability measures for teachers. For the first time, teacher and principal evaluations will be directly in line with student performance.
Another measure the school division is taking is to turn AP Hill Elementary and Peabody Middle School into year-round schools. Melvin has applied for a $50,000 grant with the state, which would help to plan a curriculum and calendar, as well as a feasibility study.
A SOL testing waiver was also granted by the state Department of Education for Petersburg, in the testing areas of science and social studies for third-graders at AP Hill Elementary. This waiver allows for more of a focus to be placed on literacy and math.
“I believe we have the right team and the right plan in place to move this school division forward. PCPS is committed to increasing SOL scores. I am optimistic that some of the measures implemented will prove fruitful in helping the division with achieving its goals,” Melvin said.
In Chesterfield, pass rates exceeded the state average on 31 of 34 SOL tests and were equal on two. Chesterfield has shown steady progress in math and boasted a 100 percent pass rate on the geography test.
“Parents have high expectations for their children, and Chesterfield County Public Schools has high expectations for all students,” said Chesterfield County Superintendent Marcus Newsome. “The SOL tests that students took this past year are so different from previous years that it is not possible to accurately compare this year’s scores to previous scores. Our school system will continue to work with the state to provide students, staff members and schools the resources necessary to succeed.”