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More students in the Roanoke region and New River Valley passed the state’s new math tests in the spring, but reading and writing pass rates dropped in several school divisions, according to new statewide test results.

The Virginia Department of Education on Tuesday announced Standards of Learning pass rates for the 2018-19 school year. Pass rates among most school divisions paralleled statewide trends.

Across the state, 78% of students passed in reading, a one percentage point drop from the previous school year.

The writing pass rate was 76%, down two points. Math increased to 82% from 77%. Science remained the same at 81%. The history pass rate was 80%, down 4 points.

The drop in reading and writing continued a trend from a year ago, when pass rates in both subjects decreased.

The statewide results reflected changes in how often students take state tests, caused by revisions to the state’s graduation and accountability standards, according to education officials.

The state’s revisions took effect last school year and decreased the number of Standards of Learning tests high school students must pass to graduate.

Students who meet the testing requirement in a content area don’t have to take another test in the subject unless more testing is required for the school to meet federal testing requirements.

High school students previously had to take end-of-course tests even if they’d already earned the necessary credits.

The state also introduced new math tests in all grade levels this year.

“The achievement in a school, a division or in the Commonwealth as a whole must be viewed in the context of these changes in student test-taking patterns, standards and assessments,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said in a news release.

“These changes were significant and performance on last year’s [Standards of Learning] tests marks the beginning of new trend lines in mathematics, science and history.”

Lane said the state will collaborate with school systems to focus on improving reading skills for students, and on achievement gaps in reading, especially at the elementary level.

Daniel Gecker, the president of the Virginia Board of Education, said the state’s reading pass rates underscore the importance of the board of education’s “current discussion about promoting equity,” by including early reading intervention in the state’s Standards of Quality.

“This would provide a dedicated state funding stream for reading specialists in elementary schools based in part on the percentage of students not reading on grade level by the end of the third grade,” Gecker said.

School divisions are required to provide reading intervention services to students in kindergarten through third grade who demonstrate deficiencies on tests. But the Standards of Quality don’t mandate that school divisions provide reading specialists. Instead, the state recommends that a reading specialist be provided in each elementary school at the discretion of the local school board.

Standards of Learning tests don’t carry as much weight as they used to in school accreditation standards.

As of last school year, schools are now judged by additional indicators, such as achievement gaps in English and math, chronic absenteeism, graduation, completion and dropout rates.

The state identifies schools as accredited, accredited with conditions or accreditation denied based on the new standards.

The state said it will release accreditation ratings for the 2019-20 school year next month.

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