Schools pleased with SOLs

Published 9:20 pm Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Deran Whitney is celebrating improved numbers in almost every subject area on the Standards of Learning assessments administered in the 2014-2015 school year.

“It is very encouraging when you see an increase across the board like that,” Whitney said Tuesday after preliminary numbers were released. “I think it shows that our teachers, our administrators and our central office staff — the hard work they put into it is paying off.”

As a division, Suffolk Public Schools’ pass rates improved between 2 and 8 percentage points in reading, writing, history and math. It declined a mere 1 percentage point in science.

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Whitney said the results make it appear as though two additional schools — Hillpoint Elementary School and Lakeland High School — will be fully accredited by the state, bringing the total to 11 of the division’s 18 schools.

“I’m just very pleased that the results are as they are,” he said. “Our teachers have been working so hard. I think this will be a much-needed boost to say, ‘Your hard work and effort is paying off.’”

Seven schools improved in every content area: Creekside, Elephant’s Fork, Mack Benn Jr., Oakland and Pioneer elementary schools, along with John Yeates and King’s Fork middle schools. The state compared Pioneer’s performance to past numbers from the now-closed Southwestern Elementary School.

Whitney said he thinks teachers were more focused this year on ensuring they were teaching what they were supposed to be teaching. Students are better aware now that they need not only to recall information but also to be able to apply it to a question or problem, Whitney added.

He said results will be analyzed to detect patterns that can be addressed.

“From 79 to 78 isn’t significant,” he said, referring to the slight decline in students passing science assessments, “but obviously we want to be moving in the other direction.”

The 2014-2015 school year was the first during which students in grades 3-8 were allowed to retake tests in reading, math, science and history. On average, the performance of students statewide on retakes increased average pass rates by about four points on each test, according to a press release from the Virginia Department of Education.

Whitney believes the retakes had a significant effect on Suffolk’s pass rates.

“You have to be very careful about using one test on one day to judge students, schools or districts,” he said. Students who fell just short received additional instruction in problem areas and then were able to retake the test quickly.

SOL test results are reported by student subgroups, including those split along racial and gender lines as well as students with disabilities, students who are economically disadvantaged and those with limited English proficiency.

In English writing and math, every subgroup in Suffolk showed improvements.

Those with limited English proficiency were the only subgroup to show declines in English reading and history.

In science, the declines came in several subgroups, including economically disadvantaged, limited English proficiency, students with disabilities, white students and male students.

Student performance was up statewide in all five subject areas, according to the Virginia Department of Education. Students posted five-point overall gains in reading and math, while achievement increased by two points each in writing, science and history.

“Virginia teachers and students are adapting to the more rigorous standards implemented by the state Board of Education several years ago,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples stated in a press release. “The positive trend lines confirm that meeting these new standards is possible, although it will take time for schools to complete the adjustment.”