By Chris Teale (File photo)
Alexandria City Public Schools experienced a slowdown in improvements in the 2015-2016 Standards of Learning compared with previous years, but the data shows that the achievement gap is closing among students from different backgrounds.
Overall, pass rates in reading went up from 71 percent to 73 percent, and science from 68 to 69 percent. The pass rate in history held firm at 77 percent district-wide, while pass rates in mathematics and writing dropped a percentage point each, from 69 to 68 percent and from 70 to 69 percent, respectively.
Twelve of the system’s 16 schools saw improvements in reading pass rates, while 10 had increases in history. In science, 10 schools’ pass rates dropped, while math was a mixed bag as seven schools had increased pass rates but eight saw reductions. Writing pass rates increased at Jefferson-Houston School and Francis Hammond Middle School but dropped at George Washington Middle School and T.C. Williams High School.
These results represent a step back from the tremendous gains made on the 2014-15 SOLs, which showed large and widespread improvement across all four core disciplines, with 14 of 16 schools seeing increased pass rates in reading and math. Nine schools saw increases in history scores, while 12 had increases in science last year.
“When you look at, overall, the progress that we made last year, it is not unusual to see some slight variability the following year,” Schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley told reporters at a briefing Tuesday. “There’s a lot of discussion about how do you sustain the effort, particularly when you have the huge increases that we saw last year. I believe that we’ve done a good job of sustaining those efforts. Certainly we don’t minimize any [negative] results. We will continue to stay focused.”
One of ACPS’ major areas for concern is in writing, which continued a slight downward trend with a 1-percentage point reduction in pass rates, the same change as in 2014-2015. While Jefferson-Houston saw its pass rate jump from 28 to 40 percent and Hammond went from 60 to 63 percent, George Washington’s pass rate dropped to 70 percent from 74 and T.C. Williams went from 76 to 75 percent.
Crawley acknowledged that there is much more work required on writing across ACPS. He plans to increase professional development for teachers so they can be as effective as possible in the classroom. He said there will be collaboration with the curriculum instruction office to develop plans for that professional development, as well as to implement increased monitoring.
“What I think we need to do is not view writing as a process, as a separate activity or course,” he said. “How do you integrate writing more into the curriculum, into social studies and into language arts? That’s what we’re going to be doing more of, the integration and the process.”
In math, Crawley said that while a 1-percentage point reduction was not cause for alarm or necessarily unexpected given the strides made last year, ACPS will implement a math monitoring program in the fall and have a multi-tiered support system for struggling students both in the school year and the summer.
More positive is the improvement in pass rates across all subgroups — ethnic minorities, students with disabilities, students who are economically disadvantaged or of limited English proficiency among others. Students with limited English proficiency saw a 12 percentage point rise in reading pass rates over the last three years, while pass rates among black students and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds rose by 10 percentage points. Black students also had gains of 10 percentage points in science pass rates.
All subgroups saw in- creased pass rates in reading, science and math over the last three years, something Crawley said is indicative of ACPS moving in the right direction.
“I think when you look at the three-year results overall — and certainly there’s going to be variability when you look school by school — overall I think there’s momentum, I think there’s optimism. I think we’re focused as a school division on the things that make a difference,” he said. “If we continue to sustain our efforts, we’re going to continue to see progress and we’re going to continue to see gaps close in terms of student groups and we’re going to continue to see rising achievement for all of our students.”
The only school in ACPS not to currently be fully accredited by the Virginia Department of Education is Jefferson-Houston, which is at the end of the second year of a three-year plan to regain accreditation. After a 2014-2015 in which two years’ worth of targets were exceeded, the school — along with the other schools in the system — will learn its fate from VDOE next month.
Officials noted that it is common to see a drop in results after a strong performance the previous year, but said the results show ACPS is maintaining its level and growing. Crawley said that schools will now be expected to develop education plans to reflect the challenges that remain in the SOL data, and ensure those plans align with ACPS’ strategic plan.