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After SOLs: A+ for Loudoun Schools

All except seven of the Class of 2004 passes Standard of Learning tests required for graduation.

School officials always boast of Loudoun County's high quality of education despite complaints that Loudoun is growing too fast to provide adequate support for the increasing population.

The number of seniors who passed the Standard of Learning (SOL) tests to qualify for diplomas gives credence to their bragging rights. This year marked the first time Virginia students had to pass a series of SOL tests to graduate. They could pass all of their classes but fail an SOL test and lose out on a diploma. Of the 2,113 Loudoun graduates, only seven or .0003 percent were unable to get passing grades.

"The teachers and counselors have taken this very seriously," said Anne Lewis, supervisor of Guidance and Health Services. "They have done all they know how to do to make sure they pass these tests."

The SOLs tests are in reading, writing, mathematics, science, history and geography.

THE HIGH SCHOOLS hosted Standards of Learning test nights, which provided an opportunity for students and parents to practice taking the SOL tests. The results were used to identify gaps and develop plans to help prepare for the real exams. Teachers met with students after school, provided assistance during free periods, shared test-taking strategies, sent letters to parents, provided on-line assistance and more. "Students had many opportunities to take and retake the tests," Lewis added.

Kevin Terry, guidance director at Dominion High School in Sterling, offered an after-school SOL program for students who speak English as a Second Language. He also involved their parents. "We taught the students the best strategies to be successful," he said. "We didn't have anyone panicking."

Terry said the program succeeded in two ways. "We got parents to come into the school and understand graduation classes," he said. "We had parents take SOLs online."

The latter approach was useful, he said. "A lot of them didn't' understand the importance of the tests. It was different from what they were accustomed to in their country."

Asked whether he thought SOLs were a good idea, he said, "SOLs are here, and we're doing what we can to help anybody."

Lewis had a similar response. "It's irrelevant," she said. "It is a requirement for a graduation. We are going to meet it."

THE SEVEN STUDENTS who were unable to pass the SOLs have a number of options, such as take the tests again, repeat a class to improve chances of passing them, attend the adult evening high school program and obtain a GED, Lewis said.

Wayde Bayrd, school system spokesman, said other marks of Loudoun's quality of education include:

· Loudoun County Public Schools students taking the Standard Assessment Test (SAT) in 2003 recorded an average score of 1054, the highest in the school system's history. The average was above the national average of 1026 and the state average of 1024. In 2002, the average LCPS score on the SAT was 1049.

· On the verbal section of the SAT, LCPS students had an average score of 529, compared to the national average of 507 and the Virginia average of 514. Last year, the average LCPS verbal score was 528.

· On the math section of the SAT, the average LCPS score was 525, compared to 521 in 2002. The average math score was 519 nationally and 510 in the state.

· African-American students saw their average score jump 36 points from 901 in 2002 to 937 in 2003. Nationally, the average SAT score for African-American students was 857 and the average Virginia score 854.

The average verbal score for African-American LCPS students was 477 (compared to 434 statewide and 431 nationally). The average math score for African-American LCPS students was 460 (compared to 420 for Virginia as a whole and 426 nationwide).

· For the second straight year, every Loudoun County public school has been fully accredited under Virginia's Standards of Learning (SOL).

· 87 percent of the students are college bound compared to statewide average of 73.4 percent.

· Since 1987, Loudoun voters have approved a dozen consecutive bond referendums. This translates into funding for six high schools, seven middle schools, an intermediate school, 18 elementary schools and 19 renovation projects.