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SOLs Show Rise Around Arlington

While 24 schools now meet state standards, some continue to struggle.

School administrators started preparations for the coming year’s budget last Thursday. Now they can start preparing for this year’s round of Standards of Learning exams, too.

Arlington Public Schools released the results of the 2001-02 SOL tests this Monday. Judging from the scores, the Arlington schools can expect nine schools to be newly accredited when the state files the official accreditation statistics later this fall, joining 15 schools that have already met state accreditation standards. Scores overall rose in the county. But some schools continue to struggle to meet state standards.

"I am heartened by the fact that we have exceeded our original goal of 20 fully accredited schools, and instead, have 24," said Superintendent Robert Smith in a released statement Monday.

Others echoed his warm feelings. "My feeling is that I'm extremely proud of the accomplishments, and I credit the success to the hard work of the teachers in preparing the students for those tests," said Marion Spraggins principal of Washington-Lee.

Teachers worked at "aligning the curriculum with the requirements of the SOL tests" last year, she said, and continually provide "remediation and whatever they feel their students require… to be successful."

<b>VIRGINIA’S SOL TESTS,</b> which began five years ago, requires each county to be fully accredited by the 2006-07 school year. Smith expects to have three more of the six remaining schools earn accreditation this year. Another three would follow in 2004.

"This will fulfill the state standards for all of our schools a full two years before it is required by the state of Virginia," he said.

To meet accreditation standards, a school must show that 70 percent of its students pass English, mathematics, history and science tests, at elementary, middle and high school levels.

Pass rates for the county as a whole improved on 22 of the 28 SOL tests, compared with last year. Of the other six tests, Earth Science showed the largest decline, with the countywide pass rate dropping eight percentage points from last year.

Explanations for the decline are not yet available, but Spraggins says faculty and staff at Washington-Lee are currently analyzing the Earth Science scores to determine the cause of the problem.

<b>SOL STRUGGLES CONTINUED</b> at Wakefield High School this year, leaving it as the only Arlington high school that has not yet met state standards.

The news may not be all bad, however. At press time, Wakefield Principal Doris Jackson was unavailable for phone calls regarding the scores. But Adrian Carver, a spokesperson for the school system, said Wakefield is moving in the right direction.

This year's scores show improvements in Wakefield's pass rate on all tests, compared with the 1997-98 school year, when SOL testing began. Compared with last year, Wakefield improved on seven of the12 tests

The most dramatic jumps came on the writing and chemistry tests. In writing, 13.1 percent more students taking the test passed this year than last, and in chemistry, 15.3 percent more students taking the test passed compared to last year. In addition, Wakefield increased participation on SOLs, upping the number of students tested on 11 of the tests.

There were dramatic improvements on the high school U.S. History test, partly as a result of changes made to that test by the state since last year. In the 2000-01 round of SOLs, low US History scores statewide since 1997 prompted the Virginia Board of Education to examine and change the test itself.

Despite the changes, pass rates in U.S. History remain one of the lowest of any subject, with just 67.2 percent passing countywide. Yorktown proves exceptional in U.S. History scores, with 82.4 percent of its students passing. Yorktown's pass rates remain higher than Wakefield and Washington-Lee in every SOL test except chemistry, where Washington-Lee took top honors this year.

With so much attention on SOL scores, pass rates, and accreditation, the larger educational goals are not lost, according to Smith.

"We take pride in the fact that these results reflect the hard work and commitment of our staff, students and families. Our students' efforts account for hard work, but go beyond the SOL requirements, and instead emphasize teaching for meaning and understanding," he said.