State Superintendent says rigorous content key to strong reading skills

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RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) today released data on the performance of students on Standards of Learning (SOL) assessments in reading, writing, mathematics, science and history/social science during the 2018-2019 school year.

The VDOE announcement says that the results reflect changes in student test-taking patterns last year caused by revisions to the commonwealth’s diploma and school accountability standards, and the introduction of new mathematics tests in all grade levels.

The five tested content areas were reading, writing, math, science and history.

Seventy-eight percent of students taking reading tests passed, compared with 79 percent during 2017-2018; 76 percent passed in English writing, compared with 78 percent previously; 82 percent passed new mathematics tests introduced during 2018-2019, compared with 77 percent on the previous tests in 2017-2018; 81 percent passed in science, which was unchanged from the previous year; and 80 percent of students tested in history/social science passed, compared with 84 percent in 2017-2018.

Revisions to the Standards of Accreditation that were approved by the state Board of Education in 2017 and became effective last year reduced the number of SOL tests high school students must pass in order to graduate.

Under the revised regulations, students who meet the testing requirement in a content area do not have to take another test in the subject unless additional testing is required for the school to comply with federal testing requirements. Previously, high school students continued to take end-of-course tests even if they had already earned the credits in the content area necessary to graduate.

The 2018-2019 school year also saw the introduction of new math SOL tests reflecting revisions to the state mathematics standards approved by the state Board of Education in 2016. The introduction of the new tests marked the end of the three-year transition to the revised standards.

“The achievement in a school, a division or in the commonwealth as a whole must be viewed in the context of these changes in student test-taking patterns, standards and assessments,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said. “These changes were significant and performance on last year’s SOL tests marks the beginning of new trend lines in mathematics, science and history.”

Lane said VDOE staff will collaborate with school divisions to focus on improving reading skills for all students and to address widening achievement gaps in reading, especially in the elementary grades. Department staff will work with schools and divisions that did not see declines in reading performance in order to identify best practices and successful strategies for improving reading skills. The effort will include a review of the effectiveness of interventions to assist young readers not reading at grade level.

“School divisions must ensure that all children receive research-based reading instruction — beginning in kindergarten — that addresses their specific needs, and that students are reading at grade level by the end of the third grade,” Lane said. “This includes making sure that students read a variety of challenging content, including non-fiction and literature that expands vistas and vocabularies. We must meet students where they are, but we must also move them to where they need to be: reading at grade level or above and ready for success in the 21st century.”

“The reading results underscore the importance of the Board of Education’s current discussion about promoting equity — providing the assistance students need when they need it — by including early reading intervention in the Standards of Quality,” Board of Education President Daniel Gecker said. “This would provide a dedicated state funding stream for reading specialists in elementary schools based in part on the percentage of students not reading on grade level by the end of the third grade.”

Currently, school divisions are required to provide reading intervention services to students in grades K-3 who demonstrate deficiencies on diagnostic tests. The Standards of Quality, however, do not mandate that school divisions provide reading specialists. Rather, the SOQ recommends that one reading specialist be provided in each elementary school, at the discretion of the local school board.

Additional information on the performance of students on SOL tests during 2018-2019 — including pass rates for schools and school divisions — is available on the VDOE website and on the online School Quality Profiles.

VDOE will announce school accreditation ratings for the 2019-2020 school year in September. Accreditation ratings reflect achievement in English, mathematics and science; student growth toward proficiency in reading and mathematics; progress toward closing achievement gaps in English and mathematics; and other school quality indicators.