Standardized test scores for some Fredericksburg-area school divisions dipped last year, according to results released Tuesday by the Virginia Department of Education.
Statewide results showing declines in the pass rates for reading, writing, science and history between last year and the 2017–18 school year were mirrored in local results for Fredericksburg as well as Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline and King George counties.
Performance on the reading, science and history Standards of Learning exams declined or stayed the same for all local school divisions. Writing performance declined in Fredericksburg, Stafford and Spotsylvania, but increased in Caroline and King George.
Math SOL pass rates were higher than the previous year for all school divisions except Fredericksburg.
Local school division leaders and the state superintendent for education say the results reflect changes made to the number of Standards of Learning tests students are required to take.
“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 wrote in a press release from VDOE.
Overall, results in Fredericksburg schools were lower than the state average by at least 15 percentage points in all five subjects. The largest achievement gap was in writing, with 54 percent of city school children passing the test compared with 76 percent statewide.
Statewide, 78 percent of students passed the reading SOL. Pass rates for math, science and history were 82, 81 and 80 percent, respectively.
Stafford schools overall exceeded the state averages in reading, math and science and met the average in history. Spotsylvania’s results came up short of the state average in all categories, but were within 5 percentage points in each.
King George County matched or outperformed state averages on all SOL subjects except history.
Caroline’s results as a division were below state averages by 11 percentage points or fewer on all five subjects, though Caroline High School’s results in reading and writing were higher than state averages. Colonial Beach’s results as a division were also below the state average in all five subjects, as were Westmoreland County’s.
Orange County schools were at or above the state average in reading, science and history. Culpeper County schools equaled the state average in history and exceeded it in math.
Revisions to the Standards of Accreditation that were approved by the state Board of Education in 2017 and became effective last year reduced the number of SOL tests high school students must pass in order to graduate.
This had a significant effect on small school divisions such as Fredericksburg, said Lori Bridi, chief academic officer for Fredericksburg City Schools.
James Monroe administered 850 fewer tests this past spring than the previous year. Only 51 percent of students enrolled in math took an SOL test. Only 73 percent enrolled in science and 46 percent enrolled in history took an SOL test.
Bridi pointed to the school division’s successes in narrowing the math achievement gap for special education and minority students and English language learners, which she attributed to a focus on “real world connections and inquiry learning” characteristic of the International Baccalaureate program the division uses.
“We continue to monitor and revise reading instruction in order to decrease achievement gaps,” she said. “Differentiated instruction and teacher professional development in all subjects continues to be a priority.”
Spotsylvania County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Baker said the SOL results released Tuesday do not present a full picture of student performance.
“The data released today is limited in that it does not come close to revealing the complete student performance and accountability profile of SCPS or any school division throughout the Commonwealth,” Baker wrote in an email.
“In three of four performance areas, it is important for our community to understand that our state continues to shift away from mandatory SOL testing, especially at the high school level.”
He said he looks forward to sharing the school division’s growth in other areas when the state releases school accreditation ratings for the 2019–20 school year in September.
These ratings will reflect achievement in English, math and science; student growth toward proficiency in reading and math; and progress toward closing achievement gaps in English and math.
For high schools, those ratings will also reflect graduation and completion rates, dropout rates, absenteeism and college or career readiness.
Overall, results in Fredericksburg schools were lower than the state average by at least 15 percentage points in all five subjects.