New fall testing in Virginia public schools will measure unfinished learning

Education

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Many families are wondering if their students are behind in school at this point in the pandemic. This fall, families of third to eighth graders will find out.

A law passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 2021 is putting more testing in place for some of Virginia’s public school students. After such an unconventional pandemic year of school shutdowns and virtual learning, this fall’s testing will track how far students may be behind in reading and math.

There’s no doubt many families have struggled to keep their kids academically on track during the pandemic.

“It’s just hard all together,” said Wendy Rufrano, a mother of three boys in Richmond Public Schools. “Virtual didn’t work for us so we started doing homeschooling and that didn’t work for us.”

“I don’t know how to get them to where they need to be, you know,” Rufrano told 8News.

As just announced in a video with State Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane, in addition to MAP testing and spring SOL exams, this fall, public school students in grades 3-8 will take new growth assessments. The general assembly’s legislation specifically targets those grades for the new testing.

Lane said the purpose this year is for teachers and schools to learn exactly how far behind students are, if at all, in reading and math.

“So your school can design learning to fit your child’s particular needs,” Lane said.

The detailed scores will not affect students’ actual grades. According to VDOE, the tests will not be graded as pass or fail. “The focus on these assessments is on identifying what students have already learned as well as the skills they may need additional help with during this school year,” VDOE wrote while outlining the plan.

According to VDOE, full implementation of the legislation will occur in the 2022-2023 school year with assessments in reading and math in grades 3-8 occurring three times during the year: fall, mid-year, and spring. The spring growth assessments will be the regularly occurring Standards of Learning (SOL) tests.

This fall’s tests will be based on the student’s previous grade level’s content, so whichever grade your student was starting last fall.

“[It’s] intended to assist in the identification of unfinished learning from 2020-2021 due to the pandemic as well as enable students to show growth during the current school year,” VDOE wrote.

The testing will occur from Aug. 23-Oct. 15. When it will be conducted within that testing window will depend on when the division began instruction, according to a VDOE spokesperson Thursday.

So what do we know so far about the pandemic’s impact on learning? Late last month, VDOE announced that SOL test scores dropped across Virginia this past academic year, with pass rates decreasing in most local schools.

According to the Department of Education, in tested grades in 2021, 75.5% of students took the reading assessment, 78.7% took math, and 80% took science. In pre-pandemic years, 99% of students typically took their SOL tests.

“What matters now is where we go from here, and we will use the data from the SOL’s to identify the unique needs of every learner as our schools resume in-person instruction for all students,” Lane said.

The data will act as a baseline while schools across the state work to recover and accelerate student learning to where it needs to be.

“Virginia’s 2020-2021 SOL test scores tell us what we already knew—students need to be in the classroom without disruption to learn effectively,” Lane said. “The connections, structures, and supports our school communities provide are irreplaceable, and many students did not have access to in person instruction for the full academic year. We must now focus on unfinished learning and acceleration to mitigate the impact the pandemic has had on student results.”

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