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SOL Switch-up

Test scores mean five schools to be newly accredited, but three previously accredited slip.

Results of the 2003 Virginia Standards of Learning tests show progress and an unexpected challenge. Of Arlington’s 29 schools, 25, including all three high schools should be fully accredited this year.

But pass rates slumped at three schools previously earning full accreditation, and they will drop back to the state’s “Needs Improvement” designation: Campbell Elementary, Hoffman-Boston Elementary and Jefferson Middle.

School superintendent Robert Smith said he was surprised by the decline. “But it’s not inexplicable,” he said. “The major thing that people lose sight of is those are different kids being tested.”

“I know it was disheartening for the staffs of those schools,” said Kathy Grove, assistant superintendent for instruction. “I think it’s also an alert to all of our schools that you can’t let down… It’s not something that you achieve and then you’re done.”

Overall, the SOL results are good news, say school officials. “We’re pleased to see the test scores continue to rise,” Grove said.

Countywide passing rates improved on 19 of 26 tests, from 2002 to 2003, and Smith still expects every school to be fully accredited by next year, two-years ahead of the schedule set up by the state board of education.

State officials instituted SOL testing six years ago and require each county to achieve full accreditation by the 2006-07 school year. 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.

PASSING RATES FOR minority students again improved. School officials completed analyses last week of SOL data that show the proportion of tests with rising achievement again increased in 2003. That holds true not just for countywide averages but for each ethnic and economic subgroup.

Scores on middle school reading tests declined countywide, though. At Gunston, just 53.5 percent of eighth grade students met minimum reading standards, down from 57.5 percent in 2002. At Jefferson, pass rates on the same test went from 58.7 percent to 55.4 percent.

“I do believe there’s enough information there for us to be concerned,” said Smith. But statewide trends on that test are similar to what Arlington officials are seeing, which means low achievement could have something to do with testing methods, rather than problems in local schools.

“It’s important to be cautious about generalizing at this point,” said Grove. “We need to look at where the problems are, rather than saying there’s a problem with middle schools.”

One problem could be the language barrier faced by students whose first language is not English. In elementary school, many of those “second-language learners” are removed from SOL consideration. State accreditation guidelines don’t consider second-language learners who have been enrolled in Virginia public schools fewer than 11 semesters (just over five school years).

By middle school, many of those students still have difficulty with English even though their scores count, Grove said.

HIGH SCHOOL SCORES are more promising. Pass rates on the reading test at all three high schools topped 90 percent this year.

In U.S. History, Wakefield reported an increase from 54.7 percent pass rate in 2002 to 70.1 percent in 2003.

“We’re overwhelmed, pleased, thrilled, but not surprised,” said Doris Jackson, Wakefield’s principal. “We worked very hard—our teachers, our parents and our students.”

Teams of teachers and administrators planned intensive remediation and support programs for students who struggled with SOL’s.

The work doesn’t stop now, Jackson said. Wakefield faculty will use the same strategies to continue improving student performance and make sure Wakefield keeps its full accreditation status.