Bad news on SOLs

Published 10:58 pm Thursday, August 8, 2013

More schools likely will lose full accreditation based on preliminary Standards of Learning data, Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Deran Whitney said Thursday.

Division-wide scores in reading, writing and science decreased as new formats and more academic rigor were introduced for the tests.

Meanwhile, division-wide scores in math and history rebounded, as teachers and students adjusted to new formats and harder tests introduced in past years.

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“I think these are disturbing figures we have in front of us,” School Board Chairman Michael Debranski said in Thursday’s meeting.

Though school-level figures are not yet in, Whitney said it is clear additional schools will lose full accreditation. Already, King’s Fork and Lakeland high schools are accredited with warning because of poor performance in math assessments last year.

“I certainly make no excuses for the performance,” Whitney said. However, he noted, it is common for scores to drop the first year new formats are presented and then rise in subsequent years.

High school math continued to be a low point, with only 46 percent of high-schoolers passing math assessments, even though pass rates in the other Virginia high school subjects ranged from 77 to 83 percent.

The highest performers were elementary-age history students, 86 percent of whom passed the state-mandated tests.

On a high note, Whitney said preliminary data appears to show that all three high schools will meet graduation-rate requirements.

Deputy Superintendent Jacqueline Chavis said one problem that had been identified with the writing exams was that students were asked to do a draft on paper and then transfer it to a program on the computer screen. In reading some essays, it was clear some students had accidentally skipped lines while transferring, which may have caused their scores to be downgraded because of incomplete thoughts.

In addition, board member Judith Brooks-Buck said she was at a school during testing and observed problems with the program, noting that it would not allow certain punctuation marks or capital letters.

Whitney said the schools will continue to work on school improvement plans.

Board members bemoaned a lack of funding that they say has resulted in larger class sizes, good teachers leaving for other districts after not receiving raises and more teachers taking on extra duties like hall monitoring.

Debranski said this year’s budget process should involve “identifying things we can give up to give teachers a sizable raise.”

Board member Linda Bouchard said the school division should seek to remove unnecessary burdens like meetings and paperwork from teachers.

“I think we should ask the teachers to tell us how they spend their days other than teaching,” she said. “We need to listen to what they have to tell us.”

Whitney said the school division has allowed teachers to cut down on non-mandated tests since hearing their concerns about spending too much time testing. Chavis also said teachers have reported they are spending too much time with meetings and mandatory paperwork, rather than teaching.

Board member Enoch Copeland said teachers likely are spending too much time with discipline in the classroom.

“We certainly are open to listening to teachers,” Whitney said.

School-level results are expected at the September School Board meeting.

Division-wide pass rates

Subject            2012 pass rate    2013 pass rate    Change

Reading                        86                                70                 Down

Writing                         89                                67                  Down

Math                             58                                63                     Up

Science                         85                                77                    Down

History                         75                                80                     Up