Superintendent predicts SOL impacts

Published 11:10 pm Thursday, August 14, 2014

Preliminary Standards of Learning results suggest more Suffolk public schools will be accredited with warning this year, following a statewide trend, the school district superintendent says.

Deran Whitney’s predictions during Thursday’s School Board meeting came after officials announced gains in math — though pass rates would still be short of state benchmarks — and losses for elementary and middle schools in reading.

Among positive news, the high school math pass rate improved from 46 percent to 59 percent, while elementary and middle schools also improved in the subject area. Officials attribute this to an increased focus on rigor after new computer-based assessments in 2012 led to large reductions.

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High school reading, writing and history, as well as elementary school writing and science, also improved.

But for reading, pass rates declined from 69 percent to 64 percent for elementary schools, and from 66 to 63 percent for middle schools, based on the early results.

“We will no doubt have more schools accredited with warning in particular subject areas,” Whitney said.

Speaking to officials with other schools divisions, reading has decreased across the state, he said. Across Virginia, 190 to 200 extra schools will be accredited with warning, he said, according to his information.

“What does that mean? It means we roll our sleeves up and adjust our instruction” to meet the increased rigor of new assessment formats, now rolled out across all subjects after the reading test changed last year, Whitney said.

The superintendent cautioned that the results are likely to change when the Virginia Department of Education releases official results later this month. The department will release school accreditation ratings in September, he added.

“While not completely proud of where we are,” Whitney said, “I’m extremely proud of the progress” the district has made in some areas, “specifically in math.”

He noted that when assessment formats change, it typically takes three years to reclaim the ground that’s lost.

After putting a “great emphasis” on reading programs, officials did not expect such a drop in that subject, Deputy Superintendent Jacqueline Chavis said.

“When we talk to others in other school districts, they were kind of saying the same thing,” she said.

Board Chairman Michael Debranski said the reading scores are disappointing, “however, I know teachers are doing all they can.”

The district needs to find out about assessment changes in advance so it can prepare students for them, he said.