Greene County students fared below state average on all state accountability tests, according to statewide scores released last Tuesday, and performance across the state dropped slightly, as well. However, Greene County Public Schools saw increases in writing and math passing scores compared to last year.
The share of Virginia public school students who passed tests in five core subject areas fell compared with 2017-18 rates, according to results published online by the Virginia Department of Education. The largest drop was history, where students scored 4 percentage points worse than they did last school year.
In reading, 78% of state students passed the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests compared with 79% in 2017-18. Writing saw a slight drop from 78% to 76% while science performance stayed virtually the same at an 81% pass rate.
State math scores improved 5 percentage points from 77% to 82% in the first year of new math SOLs, which were approved by the state Board of Education in 2016.
“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 statement. “These changes were significant and performance on last year’s SOL tests marks the beginning of new trend lines in mathematics, science and history.”
Despite the statewide drop, more than 3 in 4 students passed in all five tests, according to the data, which showed an average statewide dip of 0.75 percentage point.
Greene County performed below the state average in all five subject areas, but the district saw improvements in its writing and math pass rates from last year. All Greene County schools saw improvements in math compared to last year, as well.
“We are certainly happy with our performance. We are happy that all of our schools are fully accredited again for the fourth year in a row,” Greene County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Bryan Huber said. “Of course we want to increase those scores and continue to see those go up, but we’re happy with the ones that did increase. It’s one measure, and there are many other important things that happen in the classroom that prepare students for the 21st century that don’t get tested on.”
Nathanael Greene Elementary School saw a decrease in the number of students passing the history tests compared to last year, dropping 3 percentage points, while English scores remained the same. Passing math scores were up 78% compared to last year’s 71% and science increased to a 73% pass rate this year in comparison to last year’s 70%.
The number of students at Ruckersville Elementary School (RES) with passing math scores increased to 76%, up 4 percentage points from last year’s 72%. Passing rates at RES in English decreased from 70% to 68%, history from 91% to 75% and science from 81% to 73%.
William Monroe Middle School (WMMS) saw an increase in the number of students passing the history tests compared to last year, from 73% to 77%, while math is up 1 percentage point. Passing scores for students overall in English and science decreased at WMMS. Reading scores declined from 73% to 68%, writing from 66% to 60% and science from 76% to 73%.
William Monroe High School (WMHS) saw passing rates higher than state average in English with a 95% pass rate in reading and 89% in writing.
“We’re happy for their performance in English, particularly in reading and writing. I think one of the things that has happened that’s been a positive from the state level is that localities have been given some more choices in how to assess in those topics,” Huber said. “For example, this was our first year in administering performance-based assessments for our ninth-grade students, which is a change from prior standard traditional SOL formats that we used to give in 11th grade. I think that flexibility from VDOE has allowed us at the local level to have more authentic assessments that truly show what students know.”
WMHS also saw a slight increase in students passing math, up 2 percentage points from last year. However, the high school saw a large decrease in history scores, dropping from a 77% pass rate to only 48%. Science also declined from 81% last year to 78% this year. Huber said the 29-percentage point decrease in history may be attributed to a smaller sample size.
“What has happened in the state of Virginia is that we are now limited on the number of tests that students take. For example, once students have a verified credit in social studies, they no longer are allowed to take assessments. Previously, students may have passed world geography in eighth grade, but then they would still take world history and Virginia U.S. history in high school. Now, we have much fewer students testing because they’ve already completed that requirement. You’re looking at a much smaller group of students testing in social studies in particular since most of those students get those credits early on,” Huber said.
Huber said the district will continue to find the balance between 21st century learning and maintaining accreditation at the same time.
“We’re proud of our students and staff for seeing those gains and hopefully we can continue that. We’re excited that our schools are fully accredited, making progress and continuing to grow,” he said. “It’s one measure, it’s an important measure to be accredited, but it is just one measure of all of the great things happening in the classroom. Every year we try to improve and be better in all areas and we’ll continue to do that.”
The state implemented the Standards of Learning program in the mid-1990s after ineffective reform efforts and steep declines in student achievement on “The Nation’s Report Card.” SOL testing started in 1998 and has been made more rigorous by the Virginia Board of Education.
Virginia allows parents to opt their students out of taking SOL tests in elementary and middle school. There is no consequence to a student’s academic standing or advancement to the next grade if they don’t take the test. The tests start to matter on a student level in high school, when a student must pass the tests to graduate.
When a student doesn’t take an SOL test because of an opt-out, the score is reported as a “0,” meaning it could affect a school’s accreditation rating and overall passage rate. How many students opted out of the tests was not part of last Tuesday’s data release.
The scores don’t affect a school’s accreditation rating as much as they once did.
In 2017, the state Board of Education updated its accountability system in an effort to rate schools on more than just test scores.
Last year was the first year elementary and middle schools were evaluated on proficiency and growth in English reading and writing achievement, including the progress of the state’s English language learners, as well as performance in math and science.
Achievement gaps in English and math, along with absenteeism, are now also used to evaluate those two school types.
The ratings for high schools depend on similar factors, but also include schools’ graduation rates and dropout rates. Starting in 2021, a school’s ability to prepare students for college and careers will be weighted in the rating.
The board also revised graduation rules so students need fewer SOL tests in order to graduate, although course requirements for both advanced and standard studies diplomas remain the same. Those took effect with last school year’s freshman class.
School ratings will be released toward the end of September.
SOL results can’t be used to judge academic performance against other states because they’re unique to Virginia. Rather, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” is administered to students in every state to make judgments across state lines.
According to the results of last year’s NAEP — it’s administered every other year — Virginia public school students are above the national average.