Richmond-area students fared worse than they did last year on many state accountability tests, statewide scores released Tuesday show, as performance across the state dropped slightly.
Culpeper County schools equaled the state average in history and exceeded it in math. They were lower than the state average in reading, writing and science.
The share of Virginia public school students who passed tests in five core subject areas fell compared to 2017-18 rates, according to results published online by the Virginia Department of Education. The largest drop was history, where students scored 4 percentage points worse than they did last school year.
In reading, 78 percent of state students passed the Standards of Learning tests compared with 79 percent in 2017-18. Writing saw a slight drop from 78 percent to 76 percent while science performance stayed virtually the same at an 81 percent pass rate.
State math scores improved 5 percentage points from 77 percent to 82 percent in the first year of new math SOLs, which were approved by the state Board of Education in 2016.
“The achievement in a school, a division or in the commonwealth as a whole must be viewed in the context of these changes in student test-taking patterns, standards and assessments,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said in a statement. “These changes were significant and performance on last year’s SOL tests marks the beginning of new trend lines in mathematics, science and history.”
Despite the statewide drop, more than 3 in 4 students passed in all five tests, according to the data, which showed an average statewide dip of 0.75 percentage points.
Richmond again ranked among the lowest-performing systems in the state, with pass rates below the state average in every test area. The district did have gains in three of the five test areas, with the biggest improvement coming in math where 56 percent of test takers passed this year compared to 52 percent last year.
The city school system took a hit in history, falling from a 62 percent pass rate last year to 55 percent this year.
“We’re excited to see the growth in mathematics, science, and writing, but of course disappointed by our reading and history scores,” Superintendent Jason Kamras said. “But this is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to continue to build momentum, week by week, month by month, year by year.”
The state implemented the Standards of Learning program in the mid-1990s after ineffective reform efforts and steep declines in student achievement on “The Nation’s Report Card.” SOL testing started in 1998 and has been made more rigorous by the Virginia Board of Education.
Virginia allows parents to opt their students out of taking SOL tests in elementary and middle school. There is no consequence to a student’s academic standing or advancement to the next grade if they don’t take the test. The tests start to matter on a student level in high school, when a student must pass the tests in order to graduate.
When a student doesn’t take an SOL test because of an opt out, the score is reported as a “0,” meaning it could affect a school’s accreditation rating and overall passage rate.
How many students opted out of the tests was not part of Tuesday’s data release.
The scores don’t affect a school’s accreditation rating as much as they once did.
In 2017, the state Board of Education its accountability system in an effort to rate schools on more than just test scores.
Last year was the first year elementary and middle schools were evaluated on proficiency and growth in English reading and writing achievement, including the progress of the state’s English language learners, as well as performance in math and science. Achievement gaps in English and math, along with absenteeism, are now also used to evaluate those two school types.
The ratings for high schools depends on similar factors, but also includes schools’ graduation rates and dropout rates. Starting in 2021, a school’s ability to prepare students for college and careers will be weighted in the rating.
The board also revised graduation rules so that students need fewer SOL tests in order to graduate, although course requirements for both advanced and standard studies diplomas remain the same. Those took effect with last school year’s freshman class.
School ratings will be released toward the end of September.
SOL results can’t be used to judge academic performance against other states because they’re unique to Virginia. Rather, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” is administered to students in every state—and in the largest U.S. school districts—to make judgments across state lines.
According to last year’s NAEP results (it’s administered every other year), Virginia public school students are above the national average.
Culpeper Star-Exponent staff writer Clint Schemmer contributed to this report.