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Area SOL scores mirror state

While Virginia’s Standards of Learning mathematics scores rose throughout the state in 2013, students performed significantly poorer on the English and science portions of the tests than in previous years.

The Virginia Department of Education explained that the drop in English and science scores was expected because of an increase in standards in those areas of study during the 2012–2013 school year to further meet national and international benchmarks for college-and-career readiness.

The exams place a larger focus on critical thinking and problem solving rather than traditional multiple-choice tests.

The VDOE said that 75 percent of students passed the reading tests for their grade level and 76 percent passed the writing portion.

In science, 81 percent passed their grade-level or end-of-course tests, and 85 percent passed their history and social science tests.

“The results of the new English and science tests begin new trend lines,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright said. “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.”

A similar drop in scores occurred last year when the state increased rigor in the mathematics portion on the test.

Statewide last year, the pass rate for Algebra I dropped by 19 percentage points, for Algebra II by 22 points and for Geometry by 13 points.

The education department said that overall 71 percent of students passed the math assessments on the SOL in the 2012–2013 school year, compared with 68 percent the year before.

Most schools in the Fredericksburg area mirrored state results, with Fredericksburg and the counties of Louisa, Orange, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Westmoreland, Culpeper, Caroline and Fauquier all reporting a gain in mathematics scores and a decline in reading and science.

The only school division that had a decline in overall mathematics scores was King George County. The average score decreased from 72 percent to 70 percent.

King George superintendent Robert Benson said, “Teachers will continue to adjust curriculum based on the new baseline.”

Westmoreland County reported two large drops in math scores. Fifth-grade math scores dropped from 73 percent to 54 percent, and seventh-grade pass rates dropped from 15 percent to 11 percent, the lowest in the region.

However, the division increased its overall mathematics passing rate from 55 percent to 57 percent. Montross Middle School in Westmoreland received a perfect algebra score.

Forty-two area schools received perfect SOL scores on various tests. The most common perfect scores locally were in Algebra I, Geometry and sixth-grade math.

Louisa County High School was the only area school to garner a perfect score in science, with all students passing the chemistry test.

Spotsylvania schools increased the math passing rate from 68 percent to 70 percent. Five schools recorded perfect scores in math.

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Carol Flenard said the Algebra I and Geometry gains reflect STEM opportunities in the area.

“Our teachers have a chance to learn and grow, and bring that back to the classroom,” she said.

Flenard also said that she hopes parents put this year’s English and science scores into perspective.

“It is like the math test results last year,” she said. “I hope parents understand that this is the beginning of a new trend line. We are starting fresh.”

Stafford County Public Schools reported that students in that district outperformed the state on tests that reflect the new standards that were implemented in 2012–13 in science, writing and reading. The division had the highest overall math passing rate at 78 percent.

“We expect a learning curve. For example, on 12 of the 18 SOL tests in the areas of social science and math that were implemented in the past three years, our students’ scores were higher compared to the previous year,” said Dr. Chris Quinn, assistant superintendent for instruction in Stafford. “It should be kept in mind that the new SOL tests include technology-enhanced questions that require students to drag and drop answers into a graph or chart, and now our students have to write out answers instead of choosing correct answers in a multiple-choice format. In many instances, students have to choose all the correct answers, not just one. This is a case of more rigorous tests requiring more rigorous instruction.”

—Staff reporter Amy Flowers Umble contributed to this story.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976