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Achievement gaps in Charlottesville and Albemarle County schools persist across subject areas, according to state Standards of Learning test scores released Tuesday.

In Charlottesville, 48% of black students passed the reading SOL, compared with 89% of white students. In Albemarle County, 54% of black students passed the test, compared with 86% of white students.

Statewide, scores dipped slightly in most subject areas, continuing last year’s trend. In a news release announcing the results, James Lane, the state superintendent of public instruction, called attention to the statewide reading scores. About 78% of students across Virginia passed the reading test, compared with 79% in the 2017-18 school year.

Lane said the Virginia Department of Education will work with schools to improve reading instruction.

Students take SOL tests in five subjects: reading, writing, math, history and science. Math was the only subject in which pass rates increased in Albemarle County or Charlottesville, though both were below the state average.

Results of SOL exams are one factor in determining accreditation ratings, which will be released in September.

“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,” Lane said in the release.

The achievement gaps among student demographic groups have been a focus for both divisions for years, and officials have said closing achievement and opportunity gaps will take several years. This year, SOL scores showed that gaps between different demographics continue, particularly among students learning English, black students and those with disabilities.

In Albemarle, the largest gap between English learners and white students was on the state reading SOL. About 22% of English learners passed the reading exam. In Charlottesville, the largest gap between black and white students was on the reading SOL, as well.

Math

In Charlottesville, 72% of students passed the math tests, up 1 percentage point from the previous test, and student demographic groups saw slight increases. English learners saw the largest change. About 58% of students passed the math test, up by 5 points from the year before.

Albemarle County saw across-the-board improvement on math SOLs, with 81% of students passing, an increase of 5 percentage points from the 2017-18 school year. However, the math tests can’t be directly compared with last year because new ones were introduced this year that reflect revisions to the state mathematics standards. Students from different demographic groups improved, as well.

In Albemarle, math pass rates for English learners improved by 12 points to 54%, Hispanic students improved by 9 points to 67% and black students improved by 7 points to 59%. For students who are economically disadvantaged, pass rates increased by 9 points to 63%.

“Measuring student progress is a very important part of what we do as a school division,” Albemarle Deputy Superintendent Debbie Collins said in a statement. “Our teachers’ commitment to recognizing and putting in place rich learning opportunities for students every day is the reason we see increases in overall student performance.”

In particular, Meriwether Lewis Elementary students with disabilities and those considered economically disadvantaged saw significant improvement on the math exam.

Michael Irani, who has been principal at the Ivy school for six years, pointed to the focused collaboration among teachers, the school’s embrace of culturally responsive teaching strategies and a new curriculum as reasons why those students improved.

“Students benefited from a diet balanced to meet their needs,” he said.

Irani also credited the school’s use of the professional learning community model as helping to improve student performance. He said they “maximized” the time teachers spend together.

Irani added that he was “incredibly” proud of the teachers for their work.

Looking ahead to this school year, Irani said the school’s staff will use the approach to math in other subjects such as reading and writing.

“Reading is good, but there’s room for improvement,” he said. “We’ll be building off that success.”

About 87% of Meriweather students passed the reading SOL.

Reading and other subjects

Reading pass rates in both divisions dropped by 1 percentage point. In Charlottesville, 70% of students passed their reading tests; in Albemarle, 78% of students did so.

“School divisions must ensure that all children receive research-based reading instruction — beginning in kindergarten — that addresses their specific needs, and that students are reading at grade level by the end of the third grade,” Lane said.

Seventy percent of third graders in Albemarle County and 71% in Charlottesville passed the reading test.

Venable Elementary had the highest reading pass rate, at 85%, among the Charlottesville elementary schools. Murray Elementary had the highest reading pass rate, at 91%, of all of Albemarle’s elementary schools.

Pass rates in history and writing dropped by 2 percentage points in Albemarle, and 1 percentage point in science. Overall, 79% of students passed the writing, history and science tests. In Charlottesville, 74% passed the writing test, 72% passed the history test and 67% passed the science test.

Writing scores for all city students dropped by 7 percentage points, the largest decrease of any subject area in the city school system.

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Katherine Knott is a reporter for The Daily Progress and author of The Cheat Sheet, an education-focused newsletter. Contact her at (434) 978-7263, kknott@dailyprogress.com, or @knott_katherine on Twitter.

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