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Analysis of SOL tests turns up weaknesses
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Mecklenburg County schools slide on SOL test results
SoVaNow.com / September 18, 2013The performance by Mecklenburg County students on end-of-course SOL tests worsened virtually across the board last year, with scores dropping in all but a handful of subject areas.
Out of 34 tests administered from third grade through high school, county students, on average, showed improvement in only three course areas: fourth and sixth grade math, and Algebra II.
More typical were falling scores in reading, writing and science. In some cases, the plunge was steep: for instance, the pass rate in chemistry fell from 94 percent in the 2011-12 academic year to only 58 percent last year. Over the same time span, the pass rate on the fifth grade SOL reading test declined from 91 percent to 61 percent.
School officials attributed the diminishing results to changes in the SOLs that have made the tests more rigorous, along with the division’s failure to align the curriculum to match the new test material.
“The catalyst for what you are seeing tonight is that the tests have changed. We were teaching to a specific test that changed — most recently, science and language arts tests changed this year,” said Melody Hackney, assistant superintendent for instruction. She noted the math SOL tests were made more rigorous in the previous year.
But the results on the SOLs provided fodder for critics of the administration, including trustee Glenn Edwards, who asked Hackney at the end of her presentation to the School Board on Monday night, “when did we see this train wreck coming?
“I see other schools that took the same test as us and their scores increased,” said Edwards, citing Brunswick and Amelia schools as comparable divisions that showed an overall improvement in test scores.
Among the 12 school divisions in Region 8 — which spans an area from Greensville to Halifax to Buckingham — Mecklenburg ranked at or near the bottom in SOL performance for nearly all grades and subject areas.
Mecklenburg County enjoyed some bright spots in math, with stable or improving results at several different grade levels. In Algebra II, students not only improved their scores, on average, but they also beat the state average by 7 percent. The pass rate improved year-to-year from 74 percent to 83 percent, exceeding the state norm of 76 percent.
One ignominious result — the announcement that LaCrosse Elementary, once an award-winning school, now is rated as a “focus” school, meaning it ranks in the bottom 10 percent in Virginia in reading and mathematics by one or more proficiency gap groups — brought forth stinging comments from a parent who attended the trustees’ meeting.
Wanda Bailey, who lives in the South Hill area and has four children in the county schools, asked trustees, “Could it be that the problems that we are having have anything to do with the changes that have been made in curriculum and classroom time, with musical chairs that we have played with administrative positions across the county?”
Bailey also attributed La Crosse’s decline to the loss of Nan Alga as the school’s principal. “I hate to say I told you so, when we fought to keep Nan Alga at the elementary school. We tried to keep her there, but no, she needed to come here [the School Board central office]. We thought she needed to stay there, and I guess we were right.
“That is not a slander against Connie Puckett,” who succeeded Alga at La Crosse, said Bailey. “She worked hard for us. She did the best she could. The problem is that musical chairs is a game that children play. It is not a game that adults play who have years of experience and a job they know how to do. And now where’s Nan Alga?”
Alga, who recently resigned as Director of Personnel for Mecklenburg County Public Schools, was the principal of La Crosse Elementary from 2006-11. Between 2007 and 2009, the school received two VIP Education Excellence awards from then-Governor Tim Kaine. La Crosse was also named a Title 1 Distinguished School for the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years. The distinction is reserved for schools that meet learning and achievement tests in reading and mathematics established by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.
Hackney said the SOL test results support the administration’s view that teaching methods must change to prepare students for more challenging material — the rationale for the division’s adoption of a Project Based Learning curriculum.
“We believe that the scores are directly related to traditional teaching methods,” Hackney said, adding that her comments were not meant as a criticism of any teacher or any school. Instead, Hackney pointed to an underlying problem with traditional teaching — it best prepares students for tests aimed at gleaning basic knowledge and facts learned through memorization.
Pointing to some encouraging test results at the sixth grade level, Hackney said PBL deeper learning activities can lead to greater student success.
“We’re on the right track for teaching methodologies that get at deeper understanding of the core content,” said Hackney.
In response to that comment, Bailey said, “I did not see a breakout of 6th grade PBL and non-PBL classes. I heard some PBL teachers say the PBL students did really well. And I’m really happy for them. And so I would like to see an official breakout of those students who were in the PBL curriculum and those who were not so we can make an accurate comparison.”
For the 2011-12 school year, Mecklenburg County sixth graders achieved pass rates of 88 percent in reading, 47 percent in math and 87 percent in U.S. history. The results for the 2012-13 school year were 65 percent in reading, 52 percent in math and 74 percent in U.S. history.
The next step for Mecklenburg County schools, Hackney said, is to look at different methodologies and supplemental resources, consult with local and state curriculum specialists, identify best practices currently in use in some of the higher performing divisions around the state and regularly review and reassess the progress the school system is making toward improved scores.
Hackney assured trustees, “We are going to try to get at the answer to your [concerns] and bring that back to you because we want those answers as well.”
Commentswhat a joke! SOL is now a money rackett! How much money is wasted on testing companies? I was taught by "traditonal methods" and I am doing great. What is needed is for parents to get off their butts and discipline their children, raise heck with the state to stop SOL's an go back to traditonal methods. Elementary school schould be k-7, go back to junior high's 8-9 grades and senior highs. Middle school is awful. When I went to school day did not start till 9am
Sometimes new ways are not the best! Stop listening to the so called experts!
- By allpolitical2 on 09 / 18 / 13
CommentsShould we be suprised that we now rank at the bottom of the region. Wasn't Cumberland at the bottom four years ago??? Hum..... Whats the connection here??
- By Fred on 09 / 18 / 13
CommentsAp said it correctly - it's all about the $. The main SOL testing company is Pearson. They are making hundreds of millions of dollars, so the "testing craze" is steadily increasing. Virginia gives Pearson about 30-40 Mil a year to do the testing. Texas just signed a 5 year deal with Pearson for 495 mil.
It is RUINING education - simple as that. And the reason the scores went down is because they changed the test and made it harder. Common sense would tell you that results would dip - they did all across the state. So I would not put to much stock into these stupid testing results. Means nothing in the long run. The Feds have royally screwed up education and it's getting worse, they need to get out. I came along when there wasn't SOL testing and zero technoloy, ad I'm doing great. It's all politics these days and greasing education companies.
- By Teacher on 09 / 18 / 13
CommentsWonder how super supe and his sidekick board member will spin this.
- By curiuos on 09 / 19 / 13
CommentsCumberland was one of the most improved schools in the region and state during Mr. Thornton's tenure. Fred, you must be an ex-disgrunteled employee.
- By AntiFred on 09 / 20 / 13
CommentsWhat Susan Kyte needs to do is stop writing as if she's with the National Enquirer magazine and do her proper research. SOL scores across the State are being questioned by all. Straight from VDOE about all scores..."The department attributed the decline to “the introduction of rigorous new reading, writing and science Standards of Learning (SOL) tests during 2012-2013, as well as a second year of results from more challenging mathematics assessments.”
Hey Susan, when are you going to release your story of the sighting of Elvis water siting on Kerr?
- By The New Sun Enquirer on 09 / 21 / 13
CommentsHaha….New Sun Enquirer….I love it.
If Susan Kyte really wants to do some good investigative reporting she should be looking into the stories coming out of Charlotte County that the new hired Mecklenburg Schools Technology Director is under investigation for tax evasion by being paid money from the Charlotte school owned “Statesman Computer” on top of his salary and never reporting to Federal Government.
Who tried to cover it up…….Mecklenburg Schools returning hire……Dr. Hackney.
Is there a moral clause in Mecklenburg School contract that both signed? Is the new Technology Director working with our county money for technology? Can he be trusted now? Can Dr. Hackney?
Both should be removed immediately.
- By Frustrated Meck Citizen on 09 / 21 / 13
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