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SOL test scores: Mixed bag / August 28, 2014
A newly released batch of test scores shows the Halifax County school division making the grade on 17 of 34 assessments — a performance that puts county schools squarely in the mix with other divisions around the region.

County students achieved solid gains in geometry and chemistry but made few improvements overall on a battery of SOL tests administered during the 2013-2014 school year. In a majority of instances, pass rates slid from the prior school year, although many of the declines were modest.

Even with that downward trend, the local school division lived up to the required academic standard one-half of the time — in 17 subject areas, with 70 percent of students passing their SOL exams. Testing starts in third grade and continues through the elementary and secondary school years.

The Virginia Department of Education issued school- and division-level report cards on SOL testing yesterday via its website.

In Halifax, pass rates trended downward in 21 subject areas, improved in 12, and were unchanged in one — Civics and Economics. Students taking the Civics and Economics SOL exam passed 75 percent of the time in both the 2013-2014 and 2012-2013 school years.

A related analysis shows that four county schools fell short of federal Annual Measurable Objectives (FAMOs), the benchmark that has supplanted Annual Yearly Progress as a tool for judging academic performance under the No Child Left Behind Act.

South Boston and Sydnor Jennings elementaries lagged behind on the FAMOs in math, and Sinai Elementary and Halifax County Middle School were deficient in English.

The year before, Halifax likewise saw four schools fall short of the federal standard: Meadville, Scottsburg and the middle school, each due to scores in math, and Halifax County High School, which did not meet the required graduation rate.

This year, HCHS exceeded the 80 percent graduation threshold — 82 percent of its senior cohort earned degrees — yet other county schools were unable to consolidate earlier gains as the division as a whole treaded water.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Merle Herndon said that while she and her staff are still analyzing the test results, she is “very happy” with the rising share of students who graduated this year — arguably the most important assessment the system is required to meet. Halifax County High School’s graduation rate rose 5 percent from the previous year’s level of just under 77 percent.

The 34 assessments refer to the number of SOL tests that are administered beginning in third grade and continuing through the middle and high school years, including end-of-course SOLs given in subjects such as algebra and geometry, history, English and the sciences. Students and HCHS and HCMS generally fared well on their end-of-course tests, with a few exceptions. In chemistry, 85 percent of students passed the SOL test; in English, 83 percent; in Virginia and World History, 86 percent. The lowest pass rate on an end-of-course test, 69 percent, came in Algebra I.

Herndon expressed surprise at test score fluctuations at the middle school — where pass rates were much improved in math but worse in English.

“Math went up almost 10 points” at HCMS, across all grades and subject areas, but “we fell back in English,” said Herndon. “If I could tell you why that happened … I’d be writing a book, I guess.”

Nancy Zirkle, school testing coordinator, said that in a comparison with other school divisions in Region 8, Halifax County is “in line with the region, actually we’re above several [divisions].” Like Halifax, Mecklenburg County schools achieved the required 70 percent pass rate on 17 of 34 assessments. Charlotte County schools made the grade on 26 assessments. Prince Edward, also part of Region 8, achieved the pass rate on 11 assessments; Lunenburg met the standard on 18 assessments.

Herndon noted that the county’s elementary schools produced some of the most surprising test scores, with significant declines in pass rates in a number of subjects. Countywide, for instance, 58 percent of fifth graders passed the math SOL, compared to 76 percent the year before. The pass rate on the Grade 3 English Reading SOL plunged from 75 percent to 59 percent over the same period.

“The elementaries went down in a couple of subject areas, so that’s a concern for us,” she said.

Conversely, the pass rate in 7th grade math rose from 20 percent in the 2012-2013 school year to 48 percent in 2013-2014. Herndon and Zirkle said the the overall low pass rate in 7th grade math is typical at the middle school level as more academically-inclined students advance into algebra classes.

Herndon said her staff will present a preliminary analysis of the data to School Board members at their next meeting on Monday, but in the meantime the Central Office is working with individual schools to shore up areas that need improvement. “I want us to be very data-driven, and Nancy and I work hand-in-hand with the data, because that’s what tells the story,” Herndon said.

“We have a lot of things that we’ve been aligning with the curriculum and pulling in to make sure our teachers are implementing the curriculum in the proper way,” she continued. Herndon said the test results help to guide staff development and foster collaboration among teachers to determine what works in the classroom and what does not — “hey, what did you do, how did you get these high scores?” she explained.

Statewide, schools continue to deal with the ramifications of more rigorous SOL tests, a reform that has been implemented over a period of several years. According to Herndon, the Virginia Department of Education issued a report five years ago that showed only 15 schools statewide were “accredited with warning” — in other words, lagging on federal requirements. The number is now up to some 600 schools, she said.

“You lose ground when a new test comes in. We’ve been told that, statistically, it takes about three years to regain it.” The superintendent added: “We know each year these test [standards] become more vicious. I feel like we have a strong educational strategy in place, we’re constantly looking at what we’re doing …. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to happen over time. But we’re moving forward.”

Across Virginia, DOE officials hailed the overall improvement on math SOL tests, which were toughened three years ago. Statewide, 74 percent of students passed the mathematics assessment for their grade level or course, compared with 71 percent during 2012-2013. Math SOLs are administered in grades 3-8, along with end-of-course tests in Algebra I and II and Geometry.

Halifax County students, on the whole, did not live up to the average statewide performance in math. On one test, Grade 7 math, local students beat the norm, with an SOL pass rate of 84 percent, compared to 76 percent statewide. In two subjects — geometry and Algebra II — the difference in local and state pass rates was negligible. The biggest difference came with Algebra I: a local pass rate of 41 percent, compared to 67 percent statewide. There also were large variances, ranging from 15 percent to 20 percent, in county and state pass rates in math in grades 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8.

Full results, by individual school and local school division, are available on-line at

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How soon will it be before they ask the taxpayers for more money for the children? That's always their idea throw money at a problem and it will magically fix itself. If funding in education were the issue, we should see loads of PHDs coming out of the inner city school districts. The big shots draw their huge salaries and the kids are still dumb as bricks.


Hey taxpayer, there is a Super Awesome School Sup. next door in Meck county that can solve ALL the problems. We would love for Halifax to have him. He is awesome just ask his fellow board members.


Dumb as bricks--Taxpayer look in the mirror!!!! Just saying!!!!


Thorton is an idiot, just like Herndon and Stapleton before her. They claim all these theories, testing, free lunch, before/after school programs are the answer, it is not. Think about how much money we are spending on SOL testing and all these other "essential" programs! Strong Discipline is the answer. Not this zero tolerance junk. real discipline, how many remember getting a whipping in school? Another thing that would help is to lower the dropout age back to 16, if a kid does not want to be in school kick him out. Also bring back remedial, basic, general and advanced classes, instead of trying to put all the special ed kids in the classes with honors kids. We are dumbing down America an we don't even care. We do it in the name of "we have to help the children" well it is time that they learn that life is not always fair! Cut administrators salaries and give raises to the teachers and the teacher aides who do all the work.


Poor HC has only one school district too, so you really don't have much choice which school your kids will attend either. But we do have Cadillac schools. Whats the saying,"Caviar diet on a McDonalds salary."
We just need to raise taxes, that will solve everything! And the BOS will.


allpolitical is spot on. We are wasting MILLIONS on stupid SOL testing. All we do is test, test, test. Complete waste of time. Only people benefitting from SOL's are the testing companies - they are getting rich. Discipline is almost non existant. Way to many disruptive students in the regular classes, admin's do very very little to them.

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