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The Virginia Department of Education released results for the 2014-2015 round of Standards of Learning testing Tuesday, bringing good news for Williamsburg-area schools and affirmation for the York County School Division.
Both Williamsburg-James City County Schools and YCSD showed overall improvements in all five of the SOL subject areas: reading, writing, history and social sciences, mathematics and science.
YCSD also experienced score increases in every subgroup for the reading and math subject areas.
School populations in Virginia are categorized into nine SOL subgroups based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sex, English language skills and disability status to provide a deeper picture of student achievement on the tests.
YCSD’s scores placed in the mid-80s to low-90s overall in every subject area. York County students also had the greatest improvement in reading, raising the division’s score by seven points, from 81 last year to 88 this year.
YCSD administrators were pleased about Tuesday’s results, particularly in reading and math.
“We are extremely excited about our performance,” Chief Academic Officer Stephanie Guy said.
Guy said the school division had implemented a number of initiatives and programs over the last year that contributed to the gains on the 2014-15 SOLs.
“We’ve really taken a student-centered, data-driven approach,” she said.
One initiative tasked each school in the division to develop an individual school improvement plan to address areas of lower performance on SOL exams. Another initiative was the introduction of a new K-5 literacy model, which added instructional time for reading and writing, with a greater emphasis on ongoing assessments rather than end-of-unit assessments.
“That’s some of the information we heard from our teachers this year — that they know their students intimately in terms of their skills with regard to reading,” Guy said.
Guy related the use of ongoing assessments to another YCSD program, known as a “two-tiered system of supports.” Guy said this method allowed teachers and administrators to determine whether low achievement in SOL subject areas stemmed from problems with classroom-wide instruction or was more individualized to particular students.
If teachers determined individual students were struggling with the material, Guy said teachers could use “targeted reteaching” to bolster a student’s experience with the problem material without waiting until the end of a term for a traditional remedial course.
“You’re using assessments on an ongoing basis to do targeted reteachings in real time,” she said.
The division also purchased a Leveled Literacy Intervention Program to specialize instruction for students struggling several years below grade level in SOL subject areas. The program was focused on special education at the elementary level and was used for 400 students across the division — with positive results.
“We had double-digit gains for students with disabilities in English and math,” Guy said.
Due to that success, Guy said the program was being extended to the secondary level next school year.
“Those are huge gains, and they don’t come without the hard work of our teachers and our administrators,” Guy said.
WJCC Schools scored passing rates in the mid- to upper-80s for every subject area. The division’s overall reading score increased the most, rising from 79 last year to 84 this year.
“I would like to congratulate our students, teachers, school leaders, families and support staff for everything they did to help ensure that our students were successful,” WJCC Superintendent Steve Constantino said in a news release. “As the tests have become more rigorous and the challenges have become more complex, WJCC has risen to meet every obstacle thrown our way.
WJCC and YCSD’s increase in SOL passage rates were part of a statewide improvement in SOL scores. In total, Virginia students improved scores in reading and mathematics by five points, and posted two-point improvements in writing, science and history.
“Virginia teachers and students are adapting to the more rigorous standards implemented by the state Board of Education several years ago,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples said in a news release. “The positive trend lines confirm that meeting these new standards is possible, although it will take time for schools to complete the adjustment.”
Gov. Terry McAuliffe also praised the SOL results.
“I am so proud of the dedication shown by teachers, students, and the administrative staff of these schools in pursuing academic success.” McAuliffe said in a news release. “By joining bipartisan legislation with the hard work of local school divisions, we are well on the way to preparing all of our students to succeed in the new Virginia economy.”
The 2014-2015 school year was the first year Virginia students in grades 3-8 could retake SOL tests in reading, mathematics, science and history. A news release from the Virginia Department of Education said students who retook SOL tests increased passage rates by about four points on each test.
“The state Board of Education increased the rigor of the SOLs — of both the standards and of the assessments — so students will be better prepared for college and for opportunities in the 21st-century workforce,” Board President Billy K. Cannaday Jr. said in a news release. “Teachers, principals, division superintendents and other educators deserve great credit for the progress students are making toward achieving these higher expectations.”
The 2014-2015 school year was the first year of SOL testing after major changes to the system were adopted by the General Assembly, reducing the number of tests by five.
McAuliffe convened an SOL Innovation Committee to study other potential reforms to the state’s standardized testing system. The committee released 12 interim recommendations in November 2014, including a focus on flexibility in the administration of tests and allowing schools not meeting benchmarks to appeal rulings.