Arlington Public Schools have two top goals: making sure every student is challenged and engaged and eliminating achievement gaps. On Aug. 18, the Arlington School Board met to discuss how the results of the 2016 Standards of Learning (SOL) testing shows the school system meeting those goals. For the most part, the test results showed continual improvement in the schools and in closing the gaps between student demographic groups, but members of the School Board also noted that Arlington still has a lot of work left to do to meet their goals.
“[SOL testing] gives a great snapshot of where we are in terms of our academic achievement data and gives us the big picture,” said Dr. Tara Nattrass, assistant superintendent for instruction. “We’ll be continuing to dig into this data over the course of the year with monitoring reports.”
Nattrass emphasized that the testing data is just one measurement of how the schools meet those goals. According to Nattrass, other critical information, like how the scores vary from school to school within the system, will be presented in September.
Over the last three years, Arlington SOL results improved in every category except social studies, where scores remained even each year. In most categories, Arlington students tested roughly 10 points higher than the state average. For history and science, Arlington students scored five points higher than the state average.
“Social studies has been flat,” said Nattrass. “This is something our social studies supervisor is looking into. We’re looking at where we go in terms of this data.”
While testing scores in general have improved, Nattrass also noted that scores in Arlington’s high schools remained flat over the last three years despite a small bump in 2015.
Nattrass said the SOL results also highlight a continuing achievement gap inside Arlington schools between white and minority students, though the data also shows that gap is closing at a faster rate each year. In all four categories in 2016, white students consistently scored a 95 percent pass rate, while black and Hispanic students passed at 74 and 73 percent.
“Between 2015 and 2016, what you see is that the rate of improvement for black and Hispanic students is growing at a faster rate than our white or Asian students,” said Nattrass. “If the slope is greater for those students, then their rate of improvement is greater and we’re closing the gap.
We need to close at a faster rate for students with disabilities.”
School Board members said that while they were happy with the progress made in general testing scores, Arlington schools needed to continue to work on closing the achievement gap.
“This is one of the issues that has dogged us,” said School Board Member Barbara Kanninen. “We haven’t made a lot of progress on our achievement gap.”
“It’s very disappointing sometimes to continue to see this,” said School Board Chair Emma Violand-Sanchez. “I know you say there’s progress, but it’s minimal progress and then it goes down again. To close the gaps, students have to grow almost two years in one year to close the gap. There really has to be an acceleration. With social studies, there’s a disconnect there between the content and the experiences of the students. I’m sad to see that.”
Nattrass said the next steps for SOL testing data will be working across departments within the schools to narrow areas of focus for instruction.
“What do we see across the schools?” said Nattrass. “What do we see across focus groups? What do we see across students? That’s what we’re going to be looking at over the next few months as we dig in with the team.”
While full accreditation information hasn’t been presented yet, Nattrass said that the preliminary reports indicate that all schools in Arlington will be accredited.