CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — According to data released by the state Department of Education, SOL pass rates in Chesterfield County have seen some recovery from a post-pandemic low, but the county remains below the state average.

Chesterfield Superintendent Merv Daugherty struck a note of cautious optimism in a statement released Thursday.

“There is a lot to celebrate in these numbers,” Daugherty said. “Last year was our first full year of in-person instruction since COVID-19, and scores improved.”

Pre-pandemic, Chesterfield performed at the state average – but that’s no longer the case.

The data shared by the state reveals a more nuanced picture.

In 2018-2019, the last year of testing before the pandemic, Chesterfield performed almost exactly at the state average – but the pandemic hit Chesterfield pass rates harder than it did the average school division.

There was no SOL testing at the end of the 2020 school year, but by 20-21, Chesterfield’s average pass rate had fallen to four points below the state average.

Still, Daugherty’s optimism isn’t misplaced. This year, the gap in pass rates narrowed to just 2.4%, driven in large part by major improvements in mathematics and history scores.

“In every academic area, Chesterfield pass rates are higher now than a year ago,” Daugherty said. “History and math pass rates in particular are much improved.”

Daugherty also touted the broad nature of the learning recovery, which occurred in almost every demographic and instructional group across the county.

“In all of the smaller reporting groups except two our pass rates are also higher this year compared to last year,” he wrote.

Tables shared by Chesterfield show the two sub-groups where scores declined this year. (Courtesy of Chesterfield County Public Schools)

The two sub-groups where scores decreased were both on the writing SOL, which is administered only in eight grade. While scores increased modestly for most students, English learners and students with disabilities saw a slight decrease in their scores.

Even so, the division outperformed the state in writing assessments. Across all students, the state saw a four point decline in pass rates, continuing a slow decline that started prior to the pandemic.

Writing scores across the state have been declining for years. (Courtesy of VDOE)

A VDOE official said that pattern could be a result, in part, of exceptions issued during the 2020-2021 school year that allowed schools to administer a local alternative instead of the state-mandated writing SOL.

“When we look at the writing scores for 2020-2021, it does not represent all grade 8 students, because there were a number of school divisions who chose to administer that local alternative,” a VDOE official said.

A representative of the school division also noted that the results would not immediately affect school accreditation, which is expected to be released in September.

“I am proud of what our teachers and students are accomplishing,” Daugherty concluded. “And we will continue to do what’s best for all kids.”