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A dismal perspective

Published 8:53pm Saturday, August 24, 2013

It takes some real digging to find good news for Suffolk in the Standards of Learning test results released by the Virginia Department of Education this week, but there is some: Suffolk’s elementary and middle school students were slightly more likely to have passed their math and science tests than their counterparts around the commonwealth. Similarly, third-grade history was a comparatively strong subject for Suffolk.

But that’s about it. Out of 34 tests administered from primary school through high school, Suffolk students’ pass rates last school year lagged the state average in all but eight subjects. Four different math tests, two science tests and two history tests provided the entirety of the positive picture for the city’s public school system.

But even the good news requires some qualification: Even at the elementary level, pass rates reveal that between one-fifth and one-quarter of those taking any given math test didn’t understand the concepts the state considers important. And the fact that those failing students have plenty of company around the state doesn’t make things much better.

In fact, most of the news coming out of the Virginia Department of Education’s SOL announcement this week was bad. In Suffolk, it was often just dismal. Only 62 percent of third-graders and 48 percent of seventh-graders passed their math tests. It’s hard to understand how the city could fail so many of its students in a subject that is so important to the nation’s future.

The failures seem to begin snowballing when young students transition into high school and pursue higher-level and elective mathematics courses. Just 65 percent of those taking the Algebra I test passed it. Those who made it to Algebra II did even worse, with only 45 percent passing. Only 53 percent of those who took the geometry SOL wound up passing it.

There was a lot of discussion this year about the fact that new, computer-based reading and writing tests would result in scores on those tests falling, and that predication seems to have come true around the state, as students were challenged to use their critical-thinking skills in those subjects, instead of relying on rote memorization and multiple-choice guesses. Consequently, an examination of the resulting English test pass rates is at least as discouraging as one concentrating on math scores.

School officials say they have reason to expect English scores to rebound next year, now that students have a year of the new test type under their belts. But judging by the nearly imperceptible bounce in math scores this time — a year after the math tests got the same upgraded treatment as English tests did this year — parents and taxpayers probably should not count on significant improvements.

That’s seems a pretty dismal outlook to have, but considering the dismal pass rates on Suffolk’s SOL tests and the lack of evidence for anything other than incremental and superficial changes to the school system’s approach, it seems a realistic perspective, at least.

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  • So What

    in regards to the Common Core issue a teacher friend suggested that as a grandparent of 6 Kids ranging from pre k to 10th grade to read a book that is mandatory under CC standards and is being used in the classroom at the 11th grade level, its titled Bluest Eye by Toni Madison, I can assure you it will make a street walker blush. It might be looked upon as a training manual

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  • chief601

    bo sox,

    I might point out to you that you may have 30 students in some classes. I went to school with over 30 kids in all classes. I might also point out that Christian schools continually turn out a better product at lower cost. Do I understand parents are more involved and discipline is maintained? Yes, I do. Whose fault is the behavior problem? I took my kids out of public school (as a single dad on a firefighters salary) because of the failure of public education. More money to be wasted on stupid programs is not the answer. You going to defend the “well, we don’t have to have the right answer in math to count it correct” nonsense? The system is not functioning. As a manager, I can tell you I’m sick of having to redo what the schools have messed up to get a functioning employee.

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  • thekytikat

    Anyone who thinks that throwing more money at the problem is the solution… I’d invite you to watch the documentary “The Cartel” – it’s available streaming on Netflix. Money is not the solution. The educational competition provided by vouchers, and a reduction in admin & overhead would be a good start.

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  • bo_sox

    Politicians and members of the general public complain about test scores, yet the state and local governments keep reducing the funding for public schools. If things are dismal, how does reducing funding make any sense? We need to reduce class size, entice the best college students to the education profession with quality wages, and hold parents accountable. There are no easy answers on how to get this done, but we have to stop blaming only the teachers and the school system.

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    • chief601

      “Politicians and members of the general public complain about test scores, yet the state and local governments keep reducing the funding for public schools.”

      That’s the same answer I’ve heard since the scores started falling in the late 60′s. How about instead of giving a bonus to the teachers whose scores are continually low, you fire them instead. They are turning out a defective product, period. Now I’ll hear it’s the parents fault, it’s society’s fault, it’s Bush’s fault, it’s anyone’s fault but the administrators and teachers who have come up with ridiculous programs like “New Math” and “Core” programs. The fault is the teachers unions and the federal government’s DOE. School dollars should never go past the state capitol.

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      • bo_sox

        I never said to not place any blame on the teachers and school syste, I stated that they were not the only people/insitutions to blame. It is a bigger problem than simply the schools. If parents and students don’t care, there is little that can be done at the school level. Without funding, there is little that can be done at the school level. With about 30 children in some of of our elementary school classrooms, success will be hard to come by.

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  • ared924

    I’m sure any English or Reading teacher would welcome your expertise !!! You can volunteer at any local school !!!

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