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Halifax County schools post steep declines on SOL tests

SoVaNow.com / August 22, 2013
Halifax County students struggled to make the grade on Standards of Learning (SOL) tests given out in the spring, in keeping with experience statewide.

Virginia’s more rigorous SOL tests, revamped two years ago, continued to yield some dismal pass rates, although educators say the numbers should be viewed in context — not as a sign that students are learning less, but that they are being challenged more.

Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon said she was not surprised by fewer Halifax County students passing their science and English SOLs after having been warned by officials with the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) that the new tests were much more difficult.

Revised standards adopted in multiple subject areas by the Board of Education in 2010 produced lower scores in the most recent round of testing in spring 2012. This also marked the debut of online SOL writing tests, according to the VDOE.

“The results of the new English and science tests begin new trend lines,” said Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright. “Students are now being challenged by the standards to achieve new levels of mastery at each grade level and to apply what they have learned on assessments that are very different from the traditional multiple choice tests people often associate with the SOL program,” she said.

“Raising standards is difficult, but well worth the effort. We are asking students to meet higher expectations so that when they graduate, they will be ready for college and the work force.”

Halifax County students regressed in terms of their English reading pass rates, with eighth graders posting the largest drop — falling 28 points, from an 82 percent pass rate last year to only 54 percent this year. The fifth grade reading pass rate also fell by 25 points, from 92 percent last year to 67 percent this year.

English writing pass rates dropped significantly both in grade 5 (by 21 points) and in grade 8 (by 34 points).

Good news, however, came with a rise in the pass rate on history exams. Halifax students posted modest gains in the pass rates for end-of-course testing in Virginia and US History and World History I and II. Pass rates on geography tests also climbed by one percentage point.

Math — which tripped up many county students with the implementation of new SOL tests in 2011 — was a mixed bag this time around. Pass rates on math SOLs rose slightly in grades 3, 5 and 6.

However, students at Halifax County Middle School scored relatively poorly on their math SOLs. The pass rate for seventh graders dropped 22 points from the previous year — from 42 percent to a mere 20 percent. By comparison, seventh grade students at Charlotte County’s Central Middle School achieved an overall pass rate of 72 percent, up from 63 percent the year below.

Conversely, eighth grade students taking Algebra I and II made strides with higher overall pass rates, as did high school students who took the end-of-course SOL geometry test.

Science and biology were two other areas where pass rates declined from the year before, in the 2011-12 academic calendar.

The pass rate on high school biology fell by 21 points, from 87 percent to 66 percent; on chemistry, from 93 percent to 77 percent; and on earth science, from 85 percent to 75 percent.

Commenting on low scores at Halifax County Middle School, Superintendent of Schools Merle Herndon said the school would work to shore up student performance by making instructional changes. She said the team learning concept, which has seemed to work well there in the past but was not continued this past year, is being revived.

“I think that it going to help our students at the Middle School,” she said.

Nancy Zirkle, testing coordinator for Halifax Public Schools, said she and Herndon know what happened to cause seventh grade math scores to drop so dramatically, and they believe they have a resolution to the problem.

Regarding the drop in English writing tests scores, which were widespread across the state, Zirkle pointed to a change in content and the fact that last year’s tests marked the first time that all the writing had to be done on-line. “That was a new experience and perhaps it was disconcerting for many of our students,” Zirkle said.

While middle school is in many ways a difficult age for students, Zirkle said “we are looking forward to improvements this year.”

Three county schools failed to make Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO) in math: Scottsburg and Meadville Elementaries, and Halifax County Middle School. The new AMO system replaces the AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) rating used under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Zirkle said the AMO’s carry no sanctions as earlier AYP ratings did, but the designation does call for improvement. “We will know more about the AMO’s in late September when the subgroup ratings come out,” she said.

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Comments

Several LAN managers were not given contracts for this school year. And the comment made is that th technology and online were some of the obstacles the children could not overcome. Why do we seem to be going backwards instead of forward? As long as these headlines are in our newspapers and media, we will never attract new industries and jobs. No one wants to move to an area with poor schools. We built new schools and updated the middle school, yet all it accomplished were visual asthetics and debt.

Comments

First the state needs to get rid of SOL;s period. How much money do we spend on the testing companies.
We built new elementary schools we did not need. we need two high schools and two middle schools, that is where the money should have been spent.

WE don't need a superntiendent make 150K plus. This is silly. Now we have low sol scores and that nut earl womack, saying he did not pay for Dish and a new tv with school board funds. DUH, the recycled parts were purchased by school board funds, that money should go back into the general fund for the school.


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