Tag Archives: Matt Hurt

How COVID School Closures Impacted SOL Test Scores

Table 1: 2021 In-Person Instructional Hours (and percentage of 990-hour standard) by Virginia educational region.

This is the fourth in a series of articles discussing Virginia’s Standards of Learning assessments.

by Matt Hurt

The Code of Virginia requires school divisions to provide students a minimum of 990 hours of instruction yearly. During the COVID-19 epidemic, the Virginia Department of Education waived that standard, allowing local school districts to offer remote learning and hybrid remote/in-person alternatives as they found expedient. Local practices varied widely.

Earlier this year VDOE surveyed public school divisions to determine the number of in-person instructional hours offered during the academic year. The table above displays the results collected, broken down by region, race (Blacks and Whites only), and by disability status.

Some broad conclusions emerge from this data.

  • Statewide, only 40% of students experienced full in-person instruction. (No student experienced a full school year. Even divisions that offered in-person five days per week did so on an abbreviated school day.)
  • Southwest Virginia schools provided the most in-person learning (60%), and Northern Virginia schools the least (34.7%).
  • Statewide, Black students experienced far less in-person learning (338 hours on average) than Whites (439  hours) — a gap of more than 100 hours. Continue reading

How the Best Teachers Help At-Risk Students Succeed

This is third in a series of articles about Virginia’s Standards of Learning assessments.

by Matt Hurt

Teachers play a central role in the education of our students. Therefore, it is important to identify the characteristics of effective teachers, especially those who demonstrate success at educating at-risk students.

Prior to the COVID epidemic, the Comprehensive Instructional Program (CIP), an independent consortium of mostly rural school systems, held fall meetings in which teachers shared resources and strategies, vented to peers, cried on each other’s shoulders, and generally supported one another. While some detractors believe that teaching is a pie job, nothing can be further from the truth. If teaching were easy, there would be no teacher shortage. Education is a people business, and people are messy. Teachers must effectively deal with problems their students bring into class before they can make sure their students attain the required skills. They must also deal with a host of organizational and school culture problems.

In these fall meetings, the teachers most successful at helping at-risk students, whether those who had disabilities or were economically disadvantaged, were called out in front of the group and asked how they helped their kids pass the SOLs.  In every instance, they would relate three things in common — curriculum alignment, relationships, and expectations. Continue reading

Poverty Not Destiny for Educational Performance

This is the second in a series examining Virginia’s Standards of Learning.

by Matt Hurt

In the 2013-2014 school year school superintendents in Virginia’s Region VII, a region encompassing Southwest Virginia, began to focus on declining student pass rates during their monthly regional meetings. The Virginia Board of Education had recently adopted more rigorous Standards of Learning in Math and Reading and implemented much more difficult Technology Enhanced Items on those new SOL tests.

School board budgets had been slashed since the Great Recession of 2008. Many central office positions had been merged through reduction in staff, and those who were left had to attend to the administrative requirements of state and federal mandates. Therefore, the superintendents decided to pool their resources and their talents by creating a consortium, the Comprehensive Instructional Program (CIP).

The mission of the CIP was simple: to improve student outcomes as measured primarily by Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests. Initially, data was analyzed to determine which division was the most successful on each SOL test. The most successful teachers of the most at-risk students in that division (as determined by SOL results) were recruited, and they spent the 2014-2015 school year sharing their pacing guides, instructional materials, and assessments, all of which were posted online for others to use. During the first year of implementation (2015-2016), the divisions that used the common pacing guides and common assessments realized greater gains in reading, writing, math, science, and history SOL tests than any other region in the state. Continue reading

SOL Testing 101

This is the first of a series of four articles explaining Virginia’s Standards of Learning assessments, showcasing school districts have demonstrated success despite significant challenges, providing context for the 2021 assessment results, and expressing concerns about recent General Assembly and Board of Education actions that could have significant negative unintended consequences. Given the crucial necessity of producing well-educated graduates, it is vitally important that Virginia citizens understand how the assessments work. — Matt Hurt

Virginia has administered Standards of Learning (SOL) assessments for more than twenty years. Over that period, many changes have taken place through actions of the General Assembly and the Virginia Board of Education. According to the Virginia Department of Education, the purpose of SOL testing is to “inform parents and communities about whether students — as individuals and collectively — are meeting the commonwealth’s expectations for achievement in English, mathematics, science and history. SOL tests allow the state Board of Education to identify schools that need assistance and support. The assessments also provide an objective means for measuring achievement gaps between student subgroups and for determining the progress of schools, divisions and the state toward closing these gaps.”

The SOL tests measure skills that are foundational to students’ success in future academic endeavors. I have yet to find anyone that could successfully argue these skills are not valuable or that student success in these skills is not desired. If students cannot read, interpret, and understand written text, or reason through mathematical concepts, they will not be able to access higher level courses and will be less well prepared for post-secondary education. Continue reading