Our View: By the numbers, ACPS performance declines

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Numbers can be twisted to say what we want them to say. What we think about a topic is largely a product of how data is presented and interpreted.

Which is why city residents should resist the impulse to read too much into the just-released Standards of Learning test scores that show Alexandria City Public Schools declining in all five broad subject categories. But we should also not succumb to complacency and dismiss the results simply because the declines were small.

An example of how this type of data can be manipulated is in the results from the individual ACPS schools. The results were either really bad, with pass rates in only two of 16 schools increasing more than they declined, or they were mixed, with pass rates at nine of 16 schools either increasing or staying the same. Both statements are true.

The declines of between 1.3 and 2.9 percent system-wide in the pass rates for the five subject areas – English reading, English writing, history and social sciences, math and science – are concerning, particularly as they are part of a two-year slide.

The drop in math scores since the 2014-15 school year is more than 4 percent and appears to be part of a struggle throughout the school district to teach that subject at the middle and high school levels. Teaching Geometry seems particularly challenging, as it has just a 49 percent pass rate across ACPS.

Also troubling is the drop across all demographics, with a particularly sharp decline in the performance of Asian students. Scores among students with disabilities continue to be extremely low.

The most disturbing results came from Francis C. Hammond Middle School, where the pass rate declined in 10 of 11 subject areas, with only 24 percent of 8th grade students passing the math portion of the SOL.

There are several examples of good performance as well. LylesCrouch Traditional Academy continues to lead the way for the school system. This school’s performance is so strong that it begs the question: Why don’t we transform more schools within the district into traditional academies?

Samuel W. Tucker Elementary also posted gains in most subject areas. Jefferson Houston had equal numbers of subjects that went up and down, but achieved significant gains in 8th grade English reading and writing. And while Charles Barrett Elementary School declined in most subject areas, it remains one of the strongest performers in the district.

We have several takeaways from these results:

The first is simply that, while there may not have been cause and effect, it’s probably a good thing that there’s new leadership at the helm of T.C. Williams High School and in the superintendent’s chair. New T.C. Principal Peter Balas and Interim Superintendent Lois Berlin have their work cut out for them.

The second is that there seems to be a significant problem at Hammond Middle School and that active intervention may be needed, particularly in math.

Third, hopefully best practices between schools can be shared, and perhaps the Lyles-Crouch intervention team method can be implemented elsewhere, as it appears to be extremely effective.

New leadership brings new opportunities. These test results show that, while the sky is not falling by any means, there is much to be done.