Filling in the Blanks: SOLs are just one way of measuring performance

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Ramee Gentry is chair of the Alexandria City School Board.
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The beginning of a school year always coincides with receiving the results of testing conducted in the previous school year. Tests such as the Standards of Learning are
designed by the state as a tool to help assess how well students are performing on a wide variety of subjects.

Although Alexandria City Public Schools have seen gains in recent years, the results from this last year’s SOLs are disappointing. While there are increases at a number of schools, in other areas results remained stable or in some cases saw slight declines.

All of us at ACPS are determined to begin this school year with a re-commitment to increase all SOL scores across all schools and across all different categories of learners.
As mentioned in the previous interviews with principals and our superintendent, the unique population and circumstances of our students creates a unique set of challenges for our school division. However, identifying those challenges does not absolve us of responsibility to expect excellence in our academics.

We’ve established our high expectation for academic excellence in our ACPS 2020 Strategic Plan. Broken out into six goals, our first goal is Academic Excellence and Educational Equity. Members of our community can visit the ACPS website and learn more about how we specifically measure our success under that goal.

While SOL scores are certainly one important component of measuring academics, they are only one form of measurement, and we recognize the need to address other elements of learning. At ACPS, we celebrate the individual growth of students who arrive in Alexandria in the middle of a school year due to the transiency of our area or who started in ACPS speaking no English and never having attended school in their country of birth. The longer these students stay with us, the more successful they are academically.

This year, we also found great success in another form of testing: the Advanced Placement tests. Last year, we increased not only the overall number of students taking AP tests,
but also the number of students receiving a 3 or better, a score which demonstrates sufficient mastery to be considered for college credit. This is a tremendous achievement, and demonstrates that we have a school system that creates college-ready students.

Over the coming weeks and months, ACPS will look at the results from all of these sets of testing data and other measures. Through analysis of this data, we will be able to establish what elements of curriculum and instruction are working, and which areas should be refined or adjusted. It is a careful, deliberative process, and there will not be a “one size fits all” solution. Often adjustments must be carefully tailored, down to the individual student. This is a challenge we are committed to fulfilling, for it is what we mean when we declare in our mission statement (which we coined prior to recent legislation) that Every Student Succeeds.

I encourage the public to visit our website, to learn more about our Strategic Plan, to view its accompanying Dashboard, and to watch our upcoming School Board meetings in the fall when we will receive deeper analysis and recommendations regarding our path moving forward.

The writer is chair of the Alexandria City School Board.

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