Lower SOL scores: New standards to blame

Published 8:23 pm Monday, July 18, 2011

While school officials want to celebrate improvements shown in Standards of Learning testing pass rates, deputy superintendent Jacqueline Chavis said they want to examine the test results find out what Suffolk Public Schools can do better.

Preliminary SOL results for the schools made public last week show decreases in pass rates in several subject areas, with the biggest dip occurring in history scores.

Chavis said while some of the results were expected, there were other numbers that surprised school officials.

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“There were a couple of things that we hoped to see different results in,” she said.

Chavis said the high school math scores are still not at the level officials would like.

“That’s where we’ll give a lot of attention this year,” she said.

To do so, Chavis said the division is offering several professional development sessions this summer to help math teachers develop new classroom strategies.

Also, she said the schools are working to develop more concrete techniques to teach math.

Chavis said the lower rates do not reflect the dedication to success on the part of students, teachers, administrators and parents.

She said as the benchmarks for passing get higher, the schools are having to work harder to keep up.

Pass rates in history dropped in all of the eight subject areas, except Virginia studies.

More than any other history topic, third grade history and high school U.S./Virginia history saw the biggest declines.

Chavis said school officials believe the decrease occurred because of new standards that were implemented in this year’s tests.

She said fewer students tend to pass the test when new standards are put in place regardless of the subject area.

Virginia Department of Education director of communications Charles Pyle also said pass rates tend to fall when the new standards are applied.

“It’s not surprising when a new type of assessment item is introduced that you’ll see a dip in the pass rates,” he said.

He said while he hasn’t yet seen the recently-released results, several teachers and administrators have told him their students had trouble with the new test.

Pyle said the biggest change in the test is that some questions call for students to do more than remember facts, names or dates.

“There were new types of items that, to a greater extent then before, required students to apply what they learned and exercise their critical thinking skills,” he said.

Pyle said passing rates tend to increase after the teachers have a chance to realign their curriculum and the students get more comfortable with the new material.

The new history standards were the first of a trend of more rigorous assessments.

“There’s a lot more changes coming,” Pyle said.

Pyle said the new standards are being introduced in line with a state board of education goal to improve college and career readiness in all students.

Next year, math will include new standards, and then during the 2012-2013 school year, students will be introduced to new standards in English and science.