SOL scores rise post-COVID

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SOL scores rise post-COVID
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By Caitlyn Meisner | cmeisner@alextimes.com

Alexandria City Public Schools’ standardized test passing rates increased overall in the 2022-2023 school year, a continuing trend from the 2021-2022 school year. For the second year in a row, ACPS improved on the prior year’s Standards of Learning marks in four of five categories.

ACPS achievement still trails significantly behind the average Virginia school district in four of the five categories, which are reading, writing, history/social studies, math and science. ACPS scores are also well below the district’s performance during the 2018-2019 school year, which was the last full year prior to the COVID- 19 pandemic.

Despite this year’s continued post-pandemic improvement, school leadership said it is looking for ways to boost pass rates at each school for the upcoming school year. In the September 7 school board meeting, ACPS Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D., said she was excited to celebrate the achievement, but recognized there is still work to be done.

“I’m so excited to celebrate these numbers with our school populations who’ve worked so hard over the last few years,” Kay-Wyatt said. “This is a testament to their dedication.”

Reading pass rates decreased by a percentage point in the 2022-23 school year, but the rest of the core subjects saw either a two, three or four percentage point increase. Most notably, the math pass rate increased by four percentage points, which was an 8.2% gain from the 2021-22 school year.

Kay-Wyatt referenced pandemic learning loss – particularly in math and science – as roadblocks to increasing Virginia Department of Education SOL pass rates. In an Alexandria Times article from September 2022, the Times reported ACPS dropped several percentage pass points from pre-pandemic results. In science, for example, ACPS passing rates dropped from 67% in 2018-19 to 49% in 2021-22.

Clinton Page, ACPS’ chief of accountability and research, said in an interview this year’s results show that the school system is ultimately headed in the right direction.

“We continue to focus on the academic outcomes and meeting the needs of students … and addressing the challenges from the pandemic,” Page said. “It is a 100% affirmation of the work that was done by staff and students and the gains that we saw.”

Page also said leadership aims to focus on aligning priorities across the city when it comes to the instructional core subjects.

“Our focus has to be on teachers, students and the taught curriculum because that is what ultimately is going to leverage improvement and outcomes for our students,” Page said. “We’re really thinking about how we are supporting our students in terms of social-emotional [learning], as well as their connection to school and attendance.”

Kay-Wyatt said in the School Board meeting the gaps are closing between different student groups. The gap is closing between higher female pass rates and male pass rates; female students outperformed male students in each category, but male students are increasingly passing more.

Page added ACPS also wants to focus on building a staff culture, and on recruitment and retention of outstanding educators. While ACPS matched the statewide SOL score in writing, with a 65% pass rate, Alexandria continues to lag significantly behind Virginia’s average pass rates in the other four subjects. The widest disparity was in math, where Alexandria’s 53% pass rate lagged 23% behind the overall Virginia math pass rate, which was 69% during the 2022-23 school year. Alexandria’s reading pass rate was 60%, which is 17.8% lower than the Virginia pass rate of 73%. A common criticism of statewide standardized tests is forcing teachers to “teach to the test,” or preparing students for passing the standardized test rather than mastering skills. Many states across the U.S. require students – in order to receive their high school diploma – to pass the state standardized test. This is the case in Virginia.

Page responded to this criticism and said ACPS does not want their teachers to “teach to the test,” but rather focus on quality instruction. In the school board meeting, he also framed this as “connection before content.” “Instruction needs to be aligned and we need to be teaching similar content, not just across classrooms within a school, but across schools,” Page said. “That content needs to be aligned to the state, as we do have state standards. [As long as we] make sure that if we are doing those things, the test results will come.” 

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