Changes to the number of standardized tests high school students must pass to graduate could affect overall pass rates for James Monroe High School, Fredericksburg City Public Schools is warning.
Under previous requirements, which continue to affect students graduating between 2020 and 2022, students must pass Standards of Learning tests in reading and writing, one or two in math, and science and history tests—depending on whether the student is going for a standard or advanced diploma—and one “student-selected” test in any subject.
But the revised requirements, which were approved by the state Board of Education in 2017 and affect the rising sophomore class and beyond, cut the SOL tests required for graduation with either diploma to just five—reading, writing, math, science and history/social studies.
Additionally, students can only take an end-of-course SOL test if it is needed for graduation.
The result is that fewer SOL tests were administered this spring than in previous years. Lori Bridi, chief academic officer for Fredericksburg City Public Schools, said it will have a significant effect on small school divisions like FCPS.
James Monroe only tested 51 percent of enrolled students in math, 73 percent in science and 46 percent in history this spring. A total of 850 fewer tests were administered.
“When you cut by that much, pass rates are not reflective of all our students,” Bridi said. “We can’t compare these pass rates to what they were before. We support having kids take fewer tests, but the challenge is to educate families and the community about these new requirements.”
The Virginia Department of Education will report SOL pass rates for schools in August. Bridi said there could be a perception that pass rates are lower this year than last year.
For example—in a type of situation that occurred frequently at James Monroe, Bridi said—in a spring World History class of 20 students, 18 might have already met their history graduation requirement.
That means only two students needed to take the spring World History SOL test. If one fails and one passes, the pass rate for that class would be 50 percent—but 90 percent of the class met its graduation requirements for history.
Bridi said the school division should report on the percent of students who have met testing requirements for graduation, rather than pass rates.
This will also be the first year city schools will be evaluated under the revised Standards of Accreditation.
The revisions are meant to expand accountability beyond SOL pass rates and high school graduation, to include giving credit to schools where students are making progress towards proficiency, where achievement gaps are closing and where absenteeism and drop-out rates are decreasing.
Also, effective in 2021, schools must meet goals for increasing career and technical education and work- and service-based learning.
Last year was a transition year, and schools were evaluated based on either the old or new standards—whichever yielded a better outcome. This year, only the new standards will be used.
Bridi said FCPS has decreased its dropout rate but she is “concerned that the new formula will detract from all of the good things that are going on with our students.”
The division started educating James Monroe parents on the changes to graduation requirements with a letter that went out last week from Principal Taneshia Rachal.
Bridi and Sonya Walsh, director of instruction, presented information about the changes to the School Board last week and Bridi said the division’s testing coordinator will also be present at division events to answer questions.