Year of pandemic schooling reflected in SOL test data, pass rates decreased in most local schools

Education

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — After a school year like no other, the Virginia Department of Education has released the first SOL testing scores since 2019. The newly released testing data shows the impact of a school year in which learning methods were different or inconsistent as well as the impact of fewer students taking SOL tests.

Statewide, for the 2020-2021 school year, 69% of students passed in reading, 54% passed in mathematics and 59% in science. The last time SOL tests were taken in 2018-19, Virginia had pass rates of 78% in reading, 82% in math and 81% in science.

This year’s SOL data is to be taken in context because significantly fewer students took the SOL tests this year. Students who took their tests and came close to passing, would typically retake their exams but many did not do retakes this year.

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,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James 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.”

In Central Virginia, SOL pass rates show a lot of variation between the two very different school years. Every school district saw a decrease in pass rate in every subject except for Louisa County where reading test pass rates stayed at 77%.

Across the board, reading pass rates remained steadier than other subjects. For reading SOLs, the passing rates remained above 50% in all of the local school districts.

Science saw slightly more change with many districts’ passing rates falling 20% or more.

The mathematics passing rates plummeted, with most districts seeing huge drops. In Hopewell, math SOL pass rates decreased from 76% to 22%.

The Director of District Communications for Hopewell Schools Byron Davis told 8News in an email that while SOL scores matter to the district, in this past year, they “paint a very small part of the story of what we are called on to do as educators to meet our students where they are.”

“Our SOL scores reflect a year in which we had a disruption to the usual routines of schooling unlike ever before.  Our teachers made a tremendous impact on students in ways that are not represented in a test score, such as being supported in times of loss, fear, and disconnection,” Davis said.

Chesterfield County Public Schools shared a release addressing their testing scores on Thursday. The county’s pass rates were close to the statewide averages. Chesterfield students had a 64% pass rate for English, 52% for math and 60% for science. For the 2018-19 school year, the pass rates were 79% for English, 82% for math and 82% for science.

“Comparing the latest test results to results of tests administered before COVID-19 is like comparing bananas and beets,” Chesterfield County Public Schools Superintendent Merv Daugherty said. “That being said, SOL results are among the data our schools have already begun to use as we help students grow and recover from any unfinished learning related to the pandemic. We will continue to do what’s best for kids and help every student succeed as we move forward.”

Goochland County Public Schools sent out a release on Thursday as well. The school district focused on comparing the district scores to statewide averages. For the 2021-22 school year Goochland students had above average SOL passing rates.

“We made a purposeful decision several years ago to prioritize the individual growth of each of our students,” Stephen Geyer, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, said. “Traditional achievement measures like state testing are still important but not as important as taking each child as far as we can with their learning every single year. This approach provides a more complete picture of student learning and is a significant factor in our success.”

With over $200 million in funding from the Virginia LEARNS grants and the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, Lane is hopeful that students and schools can recover.

The funding is being used for things such as remediation, mental health support, alternate learning opportunities, student-progress monitoring, addressing unfinished learning, afterschool programs and more.

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