Suffolk prepares for new math assessments

Published 9:42 pm Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Suffolk school district is taking pains to prepare math students for a new Standards of Learning assessment format requiring greater computer and critical thinking skills than previous assessments.

Students taking Algebra I, Algebra II and geometry will encounter the new format for the first time when they sit for assessment exams in those subjects from May 14-25.

The exams will involve the same SOLs that have been in place since 2010 but be delivered in a new format with new items.

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According to information presented at this month’s School Board meeting, new items in the computer-delivered exams will include dragging and dropping, graphing, short answers and “hot spots” where answers may be objects, graphics or text labels.

The new items are a clear departure from the multiple-choice format students are accustomed to.

“The state has not taken into consideration about technology in the homes,” board member Enoch Copeland said during this month’s meeting, expressing concern that home computer usage isn’t as widespread in Suffolk as many other locales. “What happens to that student that doesn’t have those technologies?”

Eighty-six percent of Suffolk parents the district surveyed in 2007 reported having Internet access at home.

The Virginia Department of Education reports that the new content is between 8 and 22 percent of the questions across the three subjects and that pass rates where the new assessment has already been delivered dropped as much as from 84.1 percent to 49.2 percent for Algebra I.

“There’s no doubt about the fact that we need to be moving in the direction of more critical thinking — it’s just this is the first time we have had this type of test presented to us,” Suffolk Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Jacqueline Chavis said. “The questions may be open-ended, whereas before they were multiple choice.”

Principals are scheduling more computer lab time for students taking the exams, students are being encouraged to practice in their own time, and math teachers are getting coached how to better prepare their charges, she said.

“We have been working to align our local assessment to mimic what the kids will experience,” Chavis added. “As we get more information from the state, we quickly get that out to the schools so they can provide educational resources.

“The state superintendent has said to us to expect lower scores. Whenever you implement a new assessment, the scores always drop until people become familiar and comfortable with it.”