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English and science pass rates dropped, however, according to stats released today by the Virginia Department of Education.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Virginia students posted gains in math assessments that were revised two years ago, but English and science tests new this year presented an issue for schools, including those in the Roanoke Valley.
The Virginia Department of Education released pass rates for the state’s Standards of Learning tests Tuesday. In a news release, state education officials said they expected lower English and science pass rates because of the new, more rigorous standards. Online writing tests also were new last year.
Statewide, 71 percent of students passed math assessments, compared with 68 percent last school year. Of the nine math tests students take, the state reported, more than half of Virginia’s school systems saw increases.
But reading and writing pass rates dipped as much as 18 percentage points from last year. For example, eighth-grade writing went from an 88 percent pass rate to 70 percent. Fourth grade reading dropped by the same margin.
The highest pass rates were at the high school level, but middle and elementary schools posted drops between 14 and 18 percentage points.
“The results of the new English and science tests begin new trend lines,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright said in a statement. “Students are now being challenged by the standards to achieve new levels of mastery at each grade level and to apply what they have learned on assessments that are very different from the traditional multiple-choice tests people often associate with the SOL program.”
The data released by the Virginia Department of Education on Tuesday included only pass rates from the spring testing and did not include school accreditation or federal accountability results. Those are expected next month.
Locally, the Roanoke County and Roanoke school systems mirror the statewide trends. Students in the two biggest school divisions in Western Virginia posted lower reading and writing scores than last year, but most math scores held steady or improved.
In Roanoke County, where the system fared better than the statewide numbers in all assessments, officials still saw drops in reading and writing.
“Every time there’s a new test it’s a natural progression that scores are going to go down,” Superintendent Lorraine Lange said. “We were just hoping we’re competitive in the state, and I think we are.”
The biggest drops for Roanoke County came in third-grade reading, fifth-grade writing and eighth-grade writing. Some dropped by as much as 17 percentage points. But even with the double-digit declines, scores still bested state numbers.
The division, like others around the state, also showed gains in math test results, including a 15-point increase in Algebra II.
Lange said with Algebra II in particular the school system looked at Cave Spring High School, which had high scores last year, and tried to emulate what was effective there.
She said school officials also constantly review data, making sure they know which students need help, and get them assistance.
Ben Williams, Roanoke County’s associate director of testing and remediation, said the county will need to focus on reading tests.
“We found those to be particularly challenging,” he said.
Williams said the new tests require much higher-level thinking. He said they are not bad tests, just more rigorous.
For example, he said 15 percent of tests are not multiple choice. They have fill in the blank items and questions where there could be multiple correct answers.
In Roanoke, Superintendent Rita Bishop has for months anticipated issues with pass rates because of one change in particular: the online writing tests.
Bishop said for low income students without access to a computer, the test posed a particular challenge.
“I can show that when some kids at home had access, they did quite well,” she said. “Others without home access did not.”
The system posted reading and writing scores below statewide pass rates. It also had most math pass rates below the statewide rates and a few drops in math scores, but gains, too, and three math pass rates above statewide rates.
Fourth- and fifth-grade math, as well as Algebra II pass rates, were above state rates . The pass rate in Algebra II jumped from 71 percent last year to 84 percent this year.
“We will absolutely keep fighting until we exceed the state,” said Bishop, who was optimistic about next year.
She said in the first year of a new test there can be a downturn, but she’s addressing the technology issue by accepting community donated computers and hiring and retaining high performing math teachers. This year the system offered incentives to recruit such teachers.
And while Roanoke posted scores lower than nearby counterparts, Bishop pointed out the urban system has a different student makeup than surrounding divisions. For instance in Roanoke, 74 percent of students qualify for free and reduced meals.
Elsewhere in the Roanoke region:
But Superintendent Alan Seibert said because the tests are different from last year they cannot be compared.
“It’s a different test,” he said. “They are new standards.”
“It’s a step in the right direction. The ones that really concern us are the high school tests,” said Mark Blankenship, supervisor of assessment and planning.
He said the system is trying new things in middle schools to give students more time in math and making sure struggling students have time to get help.
The system is also working with its lead math teachers to make sure educators are on pace in the math courses.
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