While Carroll County Public School officials say several factors played roles in Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores dipping significantly for the Spring of 2013, they also acknowledge the division has work to do.
Only 27 percent of students passed the Grade 8 Math SOL, while pass rates for the SOL Writing test dropped from between 85-87 percent in some grades down to as low as 66.9 percent in Grade 8 and 72.5 percent in Grade 5. Meanwhile, 63 percent of Grade 3 and Grade 8 students passed the Reading SOL. The reading test scores were higher for fourth grade (75 percent), fifth grade (76 percent), sixth grade (73 percent), seventh grade (75 percent) and EOC (77 percent), but still a drop from averages in the mid-80s.
The results were presented to the Carroll County School Board on Thursday night by Beverly Parker, Director of Middle and Secondary Education for Carroll County Schools.
“These scores, I had warned you with reading and with writing and science, these were new tests, new standards, and that the scores would most likely dip, which they did,” Parker told the school board. “When we look at writing, these scores went from the mid-80s down to the 70s. When you look at reading, these scores dropped from the mid- to high-80s, so we know we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
For Grade 3 students, this is the first year students take the SOL tests. Educators noticed some students did not realize they needed to scroll over an arrow for the second, third and fourth pages of the test. An assessment tool, Interactive Achievement, has changed the format of its tests, which should give students more practice manipulating the test, Parker said.
“We still need to do more work with third graders, making sure they are prepped for this online test,” Parker said. “This was the first year of the writing test being online, so that also had an impact.”
Science scores did not see as significant of a decline as reading and writing, Parker said. Pass rates for science were 80 percent for Grade 3, 77 percent for Grade 5, 71 percent for Grade 8, 85 percent for Earth Science, 83 percent for Biology and 71 percent for Chemistry.
“Previously with our science scores, we had high 80s, low 90s,” she said. “As you can see the gap there is not as strong. Probably the biggest gap is with Grade 8 science where we went from 91 to 71.”
As students become acclimated to certain tests, scores improve. For instance, pass rates were as high as 90 percent in Virginia and U.S. History.
“This was the third year of the test, and as our teachers and our students get used to taking the history and the new types of questions and the higher order of thinking skills, these scores, with the exception of two areas, were all up from the previous year,” Parker said.
Math scores were a different story, however, with just 27 percent passing Grade 8 Math, 52 percent passing Grade 7 Math and 57 percent passing Grade 3 Math. Passing rates for other grades were 74 percent for Grade 4, 69 percent for Grade 5, 74 percent for Grade 6, 79 percent for Algebra 1, 79 percent for Algebra II and 77 percent for Geometry.
“If you look at math, these scores are not where we want them. Some of these are unacceptable. However, I will let you know that the scores for reading, writing and math are consistent with Region 7 and consistent across the state,” Parker said. “There is an issue across the state with these areas, it’s not just Carroll County. I will point out with math that even though some of these scores look low, they are increases over last year. For instance Grade 3 math saw an increase from last year’s 53. Grade 4 math was an increase from 65. Grade 5 math was an increase from 43.”
Grade 7 Math improved from 42 percent to 52 percent this year, while Algebra I saw a significant increase, up to 79 percent from 53 percent a year ago. Algebra II pass rates also improved from 55 percent last year to 79 percent in 2013.
Meanwhile, scores in World History - a test Carroll students have traditionally struggled with - improved from a 61-percent pass rate to 74 percent this year.
“So even though some of the scores are discouraging, some of these scores are unacceptable and we are working on that… there are still some highlights, there are still some stars,” Parker said. “Within the division there are some shining star teachers and some shining star schools.”
School Board Chairman Brian Spencer wanted to know what happened with Grade 8 math.
“That is a problem area. That is a fluke. That is something we’ve got to go back and look at,” Parker said. “One of the things that happened is that we are encouraging our students in Grade 8 to take Algebra I, so the students who are now taking the Math 8 may not be as strong as what has been in the past. So you have got new tests, higher standards, more difficult, and now you have a lot of those 8th grade students who are now in Algebra I rather than Math 8, but there are still some issues there that we have to address.”
Spencer also wanted to point out that teachers are working to help students improve their deductive reasoning skills.
“When Mrs. Parker talks about the tests, and students getting used to the tests and teachers getting used to the tests, it’s not that the teachers are teaching A + B = C, it’s how to figure out how to get to C,” Spencer said. “And the tests are different ways of using your deductive reasoning to find the answer C. Our teachers aren’t teaching the answer C, they are teaching the path to get to the answer.”
Dr. Strader Blankenship, Superintendent of Carroll County Schools, said he has a problem with the way the state handles SOL testing.
“Every time they develop a new test, they know we are going to have a 20 to 30 to 40 percent drop in test scores,” Blankenship said. “They know that and yet they still count those scores, and I think that puts our teachers and our students in a very uncomfortable and very inaccurate position for accountability.”
Parker said it is devastating to teachers when their students struggle, and devastating to students used to getting very good scores.
“So our job is to find out what happened in Grade 8, what happened in Grade 3, and how can we help our teachers, give them all the information that we can ethically give them in order for them to help the children,” Parker said.