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School officials assess SOL scores, offer plans for improvement
Friday, September 14, 2012
By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer
Local school officials saw some positives in the declines in passing rates for the new math Standards of Learning (SOL) tests by subgroups that were released by the state this week.
But for the most part, they see that more work is to be done to close the achievement gap.
The state revised and strengthened the math standards in 2009, and last year’s SOL tests were the first to reflect the increased rigor of the new standards. Tests results released in August showed every area school division had drops in the passing rates for geometry, Algebra I and Algebra II.
Results released Wednesday broke down those results by subgroups of students, such as race, special education and other factors.
In Henry County, 67 percent of students passed the math portion of the SOL tests in the 2011-2012 school year, compared with 91 percent the year before.
Dr. Jared Cotton, superintendent for Henry County Schools, said that the scores showed that there are some challenges. The subgroup that struck Cotton as needing the most work was the special education students.
The school system already is focusing on special education students through inclusion at the elementary schools, he said. Inclusion is when a special education student is placed in a regular classroom and taught by regular education and special education teachers, he explained.
At the middle school level, special education and regular education teachers have been participating in free professional development training through the Virginia Department of Education and Training/Technical Assistance Centers (TTAC). Both sets of teachers are trained on how to plan together and co-teach to best serve the needs of the students, Cotton said.
To further close the gap among the other subgroups, the county school system has the Response to Intervention (RTI) program that monitors individual students’ progress to ensure that all students are making gains in math, reading and language, Cotton said. Also, for more than 10 years, the school system has provided differentiated instruction to meet the students’ individual learning needs; promoted literacy through the Read 180 program at the elementary, middle and high schools; and used several assessments on a regular basis to check student progress, he said.
In Martinsville, 59 percent of students passed the math portion of the Standards of Learning tests in the 2011-2012 school year, compared with 85 percent the year before.
However, Martinsville Schools Superintendent Pam Heath said that since the math test is new, one cannot compare those test scores to last year. The only accurate comparison is against state test score averages.
Compared to the state, test scores for the city division were down. However, the black subgroup was only down 2 percent from the state average and the white subgroup was down 3 percent from the state, Heath said. She noted that the local achievement gap between black and white students was lower than the state, which she was pleased with.
However, since the data did show a gap, as a division and among the city schools, everyone will continue working on closing the gap and helping the students master the higher levels of thinking required by the new math tests, Heath said.
Teachers should focus on not just preparing students for the test, but teaching students how to apply concepts to real-life situations, she said.
The city school system must change instruction across the board through problem-based learning, which allows students to think critically to solve real-life scenarios and apply what they know in multiple subject areas, and also hands-on assignments, Heath said.
“That’s what it will take” to raise test scores, she added.
Cyndi Williams, coordinator of federal programs for Patrick County Schools, said overall, the school system was pleased with the student progress because scores were above the state averages in most of the subgroups, she said.
Seventy-two percent of Patrick students passed the math portion of the Standards of Learning tests in the 2011-2012 school year, compared with 92 percent the year before.
The school system sees the new test as a challenge, but “we accept the challenge ... we take it a day at a time,” Williams said.
Teachers have worked to improve instructional strategies through staff development activities in various workshops, she said.
At the end of last year, teachers met together as either a grade level or department to look at students’ strengths and weaknesses and to discuss each other’s teaching practices and strategies. After meeting, the data was compiled into packets for teachers and remediation resources were put in place for students who need help, Williams said.
“The teachers make the difference ... and we try to support them and give them resources,” she added.
“We want to meet the needs of each child ... we understand that each child has different needs,” Williams said.