Latest SOLS: More Declines in Reading, Writing

Source: Virginia Department of Education

The Virginia Department of Education has released the results of the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests for the 2018-19 school year. While changes to the test methods make it difficult to make valid comparisons for math and history/social sciences, reading and writing test scores declined somewhat, most markedly for blacks, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students.

Here are the top-line results for the state:

  • Reading: 78% pass rate, down 2 percentage points from the previous year.
  • Writing: 76% pass rate, down 2 percentage points.
  • Math: 82% pass rate, up 5 percentage points.
  • Science: 81% pass rate, unchanged
  • History/social science: 80% pass, down 4 percentage points

Asians, as usual, out-performed all other racial/ethnic groups, followed by whites, Hispanics, and blacks. Despite a heavy emphasis by the Northam administration to address racial inequities in schools, the black-white achievement gap grew wider last year in reading and writing, while remaining the same for science.

VDOE instituted two main changes to its testing. First, it reduced the number of tests high school students must pass to graduate. Under the revised regulations, explains the VDOE press release, “students who meet the testing requirement in a content area do not have to take another test in the subject unless additional testing is required for the school to comply with federal testing requirements. Previously, high school students continued to take end-of-course tests even if they had already earned the credits in the content area necessary to graduate.”

“The reduction in high school testing is most apparent in history where there is not a federal requirement that students take at least one test in the subject in high school,” VDOE spokesman Charles Pyle told Bacon’s Rebellion. The Every Student Succeeds Act “requires that students take at least one test in reading, math and science during high school.”

Second, VDOE introduced new tests and standards for math. Some educators have expressed concern that the math standards were watered down. (See “Did the State Reduce the Rigor of Math SOLs?”)

School Superintendent James Lane said VDOE staff will collaborate with school divisions to address the achievement gaps in reading, especially in the elementary grades. VDOE will work with schools and divisions that did not see declines in reading performance in order to identify best practices and successful strategies for improving reading skills. The effort will include a review of the effectiveness of interventions to assist young readers not reading at grade level.

“School divisions must ensure that all children receive research-based reading instruction — beginning in kindergarten — that addresses their specific needs, and that students are reading at grade level by the end of the third grade,” Lane said. “This includes making sure that students read a variety of challenging content, including non-fiction and literature that expands vistas and vocabularies. We must meet students where they are, but we must also move them to where they need to be: reading at grade level or above and ready for success in the 21st century.”

Update: Here is John Butcher’s take on the City of Richmond data.

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7 responses to “Latest SOLS: More Declines in Reading, Writing”

  1. Andrew Roesell Avatar
    Andrew Roesell

    Dear Jim,

    Efforts to “close gaps” that assume only environmental causes for the said gaps are doomed to failure. Like the Soviet Union, we are all prisoners of some people’s assumed premises. Public policy just ’round and ’round in an endless cul-de-sac of stale discussions and no meaningful change in outcomes, ad infinitum. There. I feel better now. I will buzz along and leave the field to the usual suspects.



    1. I agree that it would be a mistake to exclude any explanation on a priori grounds. But two points. First, the interaction between “nature” and “nurture,” genes and the environment, is highly complex. Scientists have only begun recently to understand that environment influences can switch the expression of certain genes on and off. Second, the search for purely “environmental” explanations has hardly been exhausted.

    2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      As I have stated on this blog many times, I believe the answers lie in forcing our educational systems to return to cultural literacy so elegantly defined and argued by UVA professor E. D. Hirsch, as parroted by Wikipedia to be “the ability to understand and participate fluently in a given culture. Cultural literacy is an analogy to literacy proper (the ability to read and write letters). A literate reader knows the object-language’s alphabet, grammar, and a sufficient set of vocabulary; a culturally literate person knows a given culture’s signs and symbols, including its language, particular dialectic, stories,[1] entertainment, idioms, idiosyncrasies, and so on. The culturally literate person is able to talk to and understand others of that culture with fluency, while the culturally illiterate person fails to understand culturally-conditioned allusions, references to past events, idiomatic expressions, jokes, names, places, etc.”

      See all Hirsch’s Books, incl.
      Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know Paperback – April 12, 1988

      See now too Natalie Wexler’s new book, The Knowledge Gap: The hidden causes of America’s broken education system—and how to fix it. This book is discussed in my comment today found at:

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Note this from today’s Wall Street Journal:

        “Lealand, N. C.

        The Smear Campaign Against Charters

        Far from being ‘resegregated,’ some of our schools are actually majority-minority—and that’s by parents’ free choice.

        … I pulled into the parking lot and noticed a 6-foot-high barbed-wire fence around the school. I quickly learned the problems were outside. The students were well-behaved and academically advanced. They read Shakespeare, learned phonics, and memorized multiplication tables. The results were so impressive that Houston school officials accused the school of cheating on tests—then forced the superintendent out when the charge was proved wrong.

        Charter schools do not seek to replace traditional public schools, but rather to complement them, providing alternatives to the existing system. Our way is better for some students, not all. Let parents decide.

        The “resegregation” attacks are a continuation of a broader smear campaign that began last year. Parents and policy makers shouldn’t be distracted. Charters are doing well—and if they don’t, they lose their charters and are shut down, unlike failing district schools.

        Mr. Mitchell is a retired electrical engineer and founder of the Roger Bacon Academy.”

        For full Wall Street Journal Commentary please see:

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Need to think about the “gene”, nurture vs nature thing in the context of the worlds developed countries – all of which have public schools and many/most of – do better than our schools – regardless of the “genes” thing.

    We continue to focus ONLY on the US and Virginia and race but it’s a small-minded perspective when we think of the rest of the world – all kinds of races and cultures and as far as I can tell, not so much talk about the race/culture thing that we seem to chew on.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    FYI – all the schools in the Fredericksburg Area also scored lower on most all of the SOLs from before so that argues that the tests themselves may have changed as opposed to kids scoring lower.

    The other thing to be aware of is that these are aggregate scores which means some scored higher and others scored lower and some studies in the US have suggested that our high scores are equal to the overall scores in other developed countries – that we have a persistent group that scores lower – not by race – but by income/wealth demographics that tend to group by neighborhood and neighborhood school – where the entire school scores badly – for example, In Fredericksburg, (which has a significant number of students from subsidized apartments) – they scores 12 points lower than the State aggregate…

    The conventional “wisdom” is that these kids have “bad” parents who do not help their kids to read – but the more likely reason is that the parents themselves have lousy educations and have trouble reading themselves and cannot really help their kids.

    What the SOLs tell us is not who or what to blame but rather than we need to do better at educating kids from the lower income strata; right now, many schools are designed to teach kids who have educated parents who can “help” but that just abandons those kids who STILL need “help” but are not getting it from their parents.

    And as I have advocated many times, if non-public schools can do this job better – I’m all for it but we need proof that they do – we need some kind of SOL-like regime to hold those non-public schools just as accountable.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      The parents are convinced and flock to private schools at private expense. They don’t give a damn about convincing you, Larry. No need to prove a thing. Richmond’s current plans to change district lines will increase those private enrollments next year and further lower SOL results.

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