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Area schools' SOL scores rise and fall

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The state has released preliminary test scores, but local educators say they don’t tell the whole story.

By Staff Reports

While state education officials note that math scores as measured by the Standard of Learning tests have started rising again, those in reading, writing and science took a hit this year in Carroll County.
Galax and Grayson County both saw similar results with their test scores this year, with higher scores in math, and dips in reading and writing tests.
The Virginia Department of Education posted the pass rates for SOLs on Tuesday, but schools are waiting until late September for school accreditation and federal accountability results.

“What you have in front of you is raw data, and it doesn’t really tell us anything,” Galax Schools Superintendent Bill Sturgill told The Gazette on Friday. While tests give an early indication of how students did compared to last year’s numbers, Sturgill explained that there are still many steps that have to be taken to interpret what these numbers mean.
“We have to make appeals, we have to verify the data,” and eventually, the numbers come out meaning something completely different. “The DOE has not done any calculations of data yet,” Sturgill said.
Julie Grimes, communications manager for the Virginia Department of Education, released a statement to The Gazette in an email on Friday. “One cannot simply take the SOL pass rates and determine a school’s accreditation rating. If it were that easy, we would have announced the accreditation ratings at the same time as we released the SOL pass rates,” she said.

Carroll County
Beverly Parker, director of school improvement, reported on the SOL scores to the Carroll School Board in July.
“I had warned you [that] with reading, writing and science, those were new tests, new standards and the scores would most likely dip, which they did,” she said, discussing the preliminary SOL scores for the division.
Writing scores in general had fallen from the mid-80s pass rate last year down into the 70s for this latest round of testing, she said for example.
“So, we know we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Parker said.
Science scores were not as significantly affected as those for reading and writing.
On a positive note, history classes got a new version the SOL test three years ago, and the scores have been going up since then.
“As our teachers and our students get used to taking the history test and the new types of questions and the higher order thinking skills, these scores, with the exceptions of two areas, were all up from previous years,” Parker told the school board.
Some of the math scores remain too low, she believes. However, Parker also noted that math, reading and writing scores this year remain consistent with other divisions from the region and all of Virginia.
“There is an issue across the state with these areas [of study], not just Carroll County,” she said.
Despite the predicted falling test scores in areas with new versions of tests, Parker feels confident that nine of 10 Carroll schools will be fully accredited and one will be accredited with warning under the state standards when the final accreditation report comes out in September, she told The Gazette last week.
A review of the pass rates released by the Virginia Department of Education does reveal examples of much different results from year to year in the subjects with new tests.
Third grade reading at Laurel went from an 82 pass rate from 2011-2012 testing to 52 in the most recent year.
Two years ago, Oakland Elementary fifth graders had 100 percent pass rates in both reading and writing. Testing results show for 2012-13 the reading pass rate was 94 and the writing pass rate was 78.
Grade 3 writing at Fancy Gap went from 93 two years ago to 68.
Oakland Elementary fifth graders in reading ended up with a 94 percent pass rate this year.
End-of-course reading and writing results at the high school barely budged, and scores at the intermediate school saw some downward movement.
End-of-course reading at the intermediate school went from 89 to 74 in two years, while writing went from 91 to 73 percent passing.
In math, the intermediate school saw two perfect results with 100 percent pass rates for end of course tests for Algebra II and geometry.
Virginia studies students at Fancy Gap scored a 96 percent pass rate, Gladeville students had a 95, St. Paul a 93 and Oakland a 97.
Grade 3 and 5 science class at Oakland also did well, with 94 and 97, respectively.
At the school board meeting, Parker said that the SOL results did feature some “shining stars.”

Galax
According to the preliminary figures, Galax Elementary School showed an improvement in mathematics this year, with grade three scoring a 58 percent pass rate as opposed to 44 percent last year. Grade four  bridged a slightly wider gap, climbing from 39 percent last year to 57 percent this year.
Reading, history and science showed steady increases, save for fourth grade English: reading, which sloped downward from 80 percent to 61 percent.
Galax High School’s mathematics test scores remained about the same, with the exception of the end-of-course Algebra 1 test, which showed a decline from 100 percent to 83 percent.
Galax eighth graders showed a sharp decline in reading and science this year. Reading scores went from 92 percent to 68 percent over the course of a year; and from 85 percent to 62 percent for the writing test. Eighth grade science scores were at 65 percent, a far cry from the 92 they averaged last year.
End-of-course English scores dipped less drastically, with reading scores averaging at 92 percent. Writing was still more severe, dipping from 92 percent to 77 percent.
Galax Middle School remained mostly steady with its scores, improving or declining only slightly in most classes. Some of the major percentage shifts included end-of-course geometry, which shot up to 100 percent from last year’s 89 percent; and U.S. History II, which declined from 81 to 63 percent.

Grayson County
Stephen Cornett, who heads Instruction and Assessment for Grayson County Public Schools, told the Gazette that the schools are already in the process of gathering as many resources as possible to compete with the rigorous increase in testing.
“I think that the majority of  [Grayson schools] will be accredited, but it’s too early and I don’t want to elaborate on anything,” he said.
After speaking with other educators on the topic, he shared that he had heard of a possibility of hundreds of schools within the state not meeting accreditation this year.
“Just about two or three years ago, there were only 18... so that’s obviously proof that the rigor [of these tests] has increased. This has happened in the past... Any time a new standard comes in, there is a learning curve and it takes time for divisions to gather resources and teach these students to the new standards.”
Cornett noted that, while the majority of the data has been turned in, there might still be some surprises. “With smaller schools like we have, one or two kids could change a pass rate... Right now, it’s just a waiting game,” he said.
According to the raw data, Baywood Elementary students showed improvements in third grade history and science this year, scoring 92 in history and 100 in science. Declines at Baywood were also in English, with reading scores dropping from 72 to 50 percent in third grade, 95 to 75 percent in fourth grade and 94 to 86 percent in fifth grade.
Fairview Elementary showed impressive scores this year. English scores remained mostly steady, with one major improvement in fifth grade reading from 92 to 100 percent.
History, mathematics and science were either mostly the same or higher in Fairview, with another jump to 100 in third grade history from the 81 percent score last year.
Fries students mostly showed either declines or even scores with last year’s tallies, with the exception of their math scores. The most impressive spike was third grade math, which went from 14 to 40 percent over the course of a year.
Grayson County High School improved in geometry, scoring 78 percent from last year’s 66 percent.
Grayson Highlands scores went from 80 to 55 percent in fifth grade reading. Third grade history went from 90 to 100 percent, but U.S. History 1 dropped from 90 to 50 percent. Math scores were higher once again though, with third grade at 64 from last year’s 43, fourth grade at 76 from last year’s 53, and grade six going from 75 to 83 percent.
Independence Elementary students dropped from 83 to 52 percent this year in fifth grade reading, and 77 to 44 percent in fifth grade writing. Math also scored lower: 69 to 43 percent in third grade, and 44 to 24 percent in fifth grade.
Independence Middle School showed steady declines in every subject this year, but in U.S. History II, showed an 18 to 24 percent increase in advanced pass rates.