Tag Archives: SOLs

Don’t Forget the Dismal History SOL Pass Rates

by Carol J. Bova

As the battle rages over the History and Social Science (HSS) Standards of Learning criteria — the State Board of Education decided earlier this month to delay its review of Youngkin administration revisions — it is worth noting how poorly Virginia students mastered the old standards. More than one-third of Virginia students failed the 2021-2022 HSS tests.

Of all the HSS tests administered in every grade, according to Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) data, only three had a pass rate of 70% or higher.

Grade 6 Civics & Economics — 71.5%
Grade 8 Civics & Economics — 70.5%
Grade 8 Geography — 73.4%

The highest pass rate for the twelve History and Social Science SOL tests for 10th, 11th and 12th grades was 50.8% for 10th-grade Geography. The other eleven pass rates ranged from 24.5% to 46.6%.

Considering the 2021-2022 test scores, why would anyone object to a different approach?

Board of Education: Stick to Your Guns!

by James A. Bacon

The Youngkin administration’s proposed revisions to the history and social-science Standards of Learning have run into a buzz saw of opposition from critics who claim the standards aren’t, for lack of a better word, “woke” enough.

As The Washington Post summarizes the changes: “The new proposed version generally places less less emphasis on the perspectives of marginalized peoples, removes suggested discussions of racism and its lingering effects, and promotes the workings of the free market, with limited government intervention.” Left-leaning educators and lawmakers argue that the standards “offer a simpler version of history that pays less attention to the perspectives and lives of people of color, especially Indigenous and non-European communities.”

After a four-hour public comment session, the State Board of Education (SBOE) has voted to delay consideration of the standards.

I urge Youngkin-appointed board members to stand firm. Continue reading

Lame Responses to Youngkin’s History SOL Standards

1607 and All That: the Susan Constant

by James A. Bacon

The Youngkin administration has laid out the thinking behind its revisions to the History and Social Studies Standards of Learning tests. The broad thrust is to educate students on how Virginia and the United States came to have the institutions they have. Underlying assumptions are that (1) representative government, property rights, free markets, human rights, and the rule of law are good things; and (2) while there is much to regret about American history, there is much to celebrate and uphold. Teachers will be expected to teach the good with the bad, not to “bury” unpleasant aspects of our history. They also will be expected to conduct “open and balanced discussion” on controversial topics, not to indoctrinate.

As The Washington Post reports today, not everyone is happy with this approach.

Perhaps the most vehement critic of Team Youngkin’s philosophy is James J. Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association — a union representing the more than 40,000 education workers across Virginia who will be tasked with teaching to the new standards.

“The standards are full of overt political bias, outdated language to describe enslaved people and American Indians, highly subjective framing of American moralism and conservative ideals, coded racist overtures throughout, requirements for teachers to present histories of discrimination and racism as ‘balanced’ ‘without personal or political bias,’ and restrictions on allowance of ‘teacher-created curriculum,’ which is allowed in all other subject areas,” he said. Continue reading

So Much for Burying the Dark Side of Virginia History

Should this be our framework for learning American history and civics?

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has posted a new set of proposed goals for the teaching of civics, geography, and economics — the first major changes to the History and Social Science Standards of Learning since the existing standards were adopted in 2015.

Critics have accused the Youngkin administration of wanting to ban the teaching of the more unsavory aspects of Virginia history such as slavery, racism and segregation. The charges were leveled without any evidence and in the face of repeated declarations to the contrary by Youngkin administration officials, but Virginia’s legacy media has allowed them to pass unchallenged.

If Governor Youngkin is bent upon whitewashing Virginia and U.S. history, it’s not apparent from this overview to be presented to the Virginia Board of Education November 17. Consider these proposed changes to learning goals enumerated in that document:

  • Adding more specific and thorough treatment of the issue of slavery, particularly by requiring more content in earlier grades;
  • Adding more specific and thorough treatment of the issue of segregation, particularly by requiring more content in earlier grades;
  • Adding more specific and thorough treatment of the Reconstruction era;
  • Adding more clear and thorough treatment of the issue of the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia;
  • Requiring the examination of important Supreme Court cases like Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson, Korematsu v. U.S., Buck v. Bell, Loving v. Virginia and others;
  • Further examining the critical role of the Founding Fathers and the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence and codified in the U.S. Constitution;
  • Further explaining the importance of Women’s Suffrage and key events in history that led to the Nineteenth Amendment.

The devil is not so much in the details, which Virginia school children undoubtedly will learn, but in how the issues of slavery, racism, segregation and women’s rights are framed. Continue reading

Surveying the Damage in K-12 Schools

by James A. Bacon

Last month the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)  released its Nation’s Report Card, which showed that the average math test scores declined by eight points nationally. It was difficult for most Americans to know what to make of the loss. The scores were an abstraction. How bad was the loss of five points?

The Education Recovery Score Board, a collaboration between Harvard University and Stanford University, has devised an answer. Drawing upon the NAEP scores and standardized test scores from 29 states, the Harvard-Stanford team translated the drop in NAEP scores into years of education lost. The average U.S. public school student fell behind a half year in math, and a quarter year in English.

The Education Recovery Score Board performed another valuable service. Where the NAEP published state-average scores, the Harvard-Stanford project mapped the NAEP scores to the school-district level, providing greater granularity in the data and exposing wide differences between school districts within states.

“The pandemic was like a band of tornadoes that swept across the country,” said project co-director Thomas J. Kane. “Some communities were left relatively untouched, while neighboring schools were devastated.”

Judging by NAEP’s state-level data, Virginia got hit by more than its share of tornadoes. The decline in math scores between 2019 and 2022 was the worst in the nation, and in English almost as bad. But the Education Recovery Score Board data show enormous variability within the state. Some school districts survived with modest damage; others were flattened. Continue reading

Dem Talking Points Emerge for Virginia’s Educational Meltdown

This graph compares the trend lines for NAEP 4th-grade pass rates for Virginia students and state support for K-12 education. There is zero correlation between the two. When spending accelerated in 2018, NAEP pass rates fell off the cliff.

by James A. Bacon

Democrats and the mainstream media were blindsided by the release of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data last week showing that 4th graders in Virginia experienced the greatest decline in learning between 2017 and 2022 of any state in the union. I conjectured that the evidence was so conclusive that Virginians could stop debating if public schools had melted down and start acting on the premise that they had.

I was wrong. The defenders of the corrupt and flailing educational status quo are regrouping, and they are criticizing the Youngkin administration’s interpretation of the data as politicized and misleading.

The first counter-attack comes from Jeff Schapiro, the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s veteran capitol correspondent. The headline of his latest column: “Youngkin’s by-the-numbers rant over student performance.”

Describing Youngkin’s spin on the data as “rant” — an irrational tirade — may have been the headline writer’s word choice, not Schapiro’s. Still, the headline fairly captures the negative tone of the column. Continue reading

Virginia’s Test Scores at The Bottom of the Nation’s Steaming Heap

by Kerry Dougherty

Geez. Who could have predicted this:

Only one thing wrong with The New York Times reporting on yesterday’s horrifying report that showed the sharpest drop in national test scores in three decades.

It’s this: the devastating failure of American education isn’t due to the pandemic. Continue reading

A “Catastrophic” Collapse in Virginia Test Scores

Source: Virginia Department of Education

by James A. Bacon

The big news today from the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), which administers a common test for all 50 states, is that student test scores nationally saw stunning declines in math and reading over the past two years. The drop in math scores was the biggest decline ever recorded for the national assessment.

The bloodbath was even worse in the Old Dominion. Between 2017 and 2022, Virginia saw the biggest drop in 4th-grade reading scores in the country. Likewise, in 4th-grade math scores, Virginia tied with Maryland for the biggest drop in the country.

That’s the worst decline in the country! This year, Virginia 4th graders, who in 2017 were among the top performers in the country, scored a smidge below the national average. Eighth-grade English and math scores dropped in comparison to other states as well, though not as drastically. Continue reading

Graduation Inflation

Pufferfish photo credit: Walt En On’s Reisblog

by John Butcher

The estimable Jim Bacon points out that the (already inflated: see below) graduation rate this year was higher than the pre-COVID 2019 rate, despite the effect of the pandemic and the government’s response to it. The Virginia Department of Education’s excellent new Cohort Graduation Build-A-Table provides a more nuanced look.

The reports we see in the press are the “On-Time Graduation Rate.” This rate “expresses the percentage of students in a cohort who earned a Board of Education-approved diploma within four years of entering high school for the first time.” This rate inflates the count of standard and advanced diplomas by including the modified standardspecial, and general achievement diplomas.

To their credit, the federales want a count of the standard and advanced diplomas, the Federal Graduation Indicator (FGI). Data below are FGI from the 2019 and 2022 4-year cohort reports.

Another wrinkle: “Economically Disadvantaged” (ED) students (essentially those who qualify for the free lunch program) generally score lower on the SOL tests and graduate at lower rates than their more affluent peers (Not ED). Thus, pass rates and graduation rates of the schools and divisions depend in part on the percentages of ED students. The cohort report and graphs below provide data for both groups. Continue reading

Virginia’s Student “Growth” Model Stunts Achievement

by Matt Hurt

Virginia’s system for accrediting public K-12 schools has engendered some concern since the release of  school accreditation data on September 19. While  students exhibited lower proficiency during the 2022 school year than in 2019, as measured by Standards of Learning test scores, the percentage of schools meeting the requirements for full accreditation barely budged.

Table 1 below demonstrates the rates at which Virginia schools obtained a Level 1 rating (the highest available in our accreditation system) for each of the key metrics. Table 2 below displays the overall pass rates in Virginia for each of those content areas. (The English accreditation indicator is a composite of reading and writing results.)

Note that the English and math SOL pass rates dropped from 2019 to 2022, but Virginia schools didn’t realize similar declines in accreditation ratings. English (a composite of reading and writing) pass rates fell 4.27% but schools awarded the Level One accreditation rating increased 0.83%. Math SOL pass rates plummeted 15.56% but schools slid only 0.88%.

Continue reading

Addressing the Spiral Effect in Learning Loss

by Dr. Kathleen Smith

During the COVID-19 pandemic educators did what they had to do in a short amount of time (five months in the case of Virginia) with little resources (extra funding came long after September of 2020) to keep kids learning through the 2020-2021 school year. A wholesale shift to remote and hybrid learning had never been tried before. Perhaps the challenge could have been handled better, but educators did the best they could under trying circumstances.

Rather than panic over the gap between the pre- and post-pandemic Standards of Learning pass rates, educators should focus now on catching up. The good news is that they know what they need to do, and they have many resources to get the job done.

Here is the bad news: teachers have only a finite amount of time to sequence what needs to be taught, and the scope of recouping lost learning is more than can be accomplished in one school year. Their job is made more challenging by the phenomenon of “spiraling” — in which a student must master one skill level before moving on to the next.

For example, in mathematics, the student first learns simple multiplication and then moves on to more complex multiplication. Continue reading

Schrödinger’s Schools? Are Virginia’s Schools Good Or Not? Yes.

by Andrew Rotherham

In the tiresome debate about our schools, here in Virginia and nationally, questions like “Are schools as good/bad as people say?” dominate.

These are the wrong kind of questions.

The big story of American education is variance — in everything from funding to outcomes. School performance is mixed overall and here in Virginia. That’s why Virginia at once has schools that are the envy of the world, and also fewer than one in five Virginia low-income and/or Black 8th-graders are proficient on the highly-regarded NAEP assessment and there are big gaps on our state assessments and a lot of underperformance. Often the schools producing those disparate outcomes are in close quarters to one another.

Yesterday, Virginia released school accreditation ratings based on the most recent student achievement data. Because Virginia doesn’t have any sort of accountability system or much in the way of school choice, these ratings take on a lot of substantive and political weight. They also pretty consistently lead to a lot of confusion. This year is no exception. The new rankings show that almost all Virginia schools are accredited and doing OK, even though we know there were problems before the pandemic — and that the pandemic was a disaster for a lot of kids. Continue reading

Youngkin Admin Questions Value of School Accreditation Standards

Source: Virginia Department of Education

by James A. Bacon

A Virginia Department of Education press release issued yesterday contained a vitally important message: Virginia’s school accreditation standards are failing to do their job. Despite unprecedented learning losses during the COVID epidemic, the percentage of Virginia public schools meeting the standards fell from 92% pre-COVID to 89% post-COVID, a decline of only three percentage points.

“These ratings call into question the effectiveness of our accreditation standards in identifying schools where students are struggling to achieve grade-level proficiency,” stated Superintendent Jillian Balow. “Frankly, the ratings we are releasing today fail to capture the extent of the crisis facing our schools and students.”

And how did the legacy media treat this story?

The Washington Post ignored it. Instead, it published a story headlined, “Youngkin’s rules for trans students leave many teens fearful, despondent.” As far as I can tell from the round-up of clips in the VA News aggregator, not one of Virginia’s major metro dailies covered the announcement. The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress, the (Harrisonburg) Daily News Record, and WSLS (Roanoke) and WTOP (Washington) were the only legacy media outlets to mention it. Only the two TV stations included the Balow quotes in the body of their stories. Continue reading

Some School Divisions Successfully Mitigated COVID Learning Losses in Math

by James C. Sherlock

Congratulations are in order.

Some school divisions, spread around the state, did a terrific job in mitigating mathematics learning losses during COVID.

I picked math for its baseline importance in school and in life and the relative inability for students to advance in that subject without instruction, compared to reading and writing.

In trying to measure those losses with available data, I have compared division math SOL pass rates in 2021-22 to those in the last pre-pandemic year of 2018-19.

I believe it to be a good measure of successful teacher instruction, the learning environments at home, and in school and student effort.

That standard produced an eclectic and in some ways surprising list of divisions with the lowest learning losses.

Continue reading

Virginia Public Schools and Learning Losses – Part 1 – Winners and Losers

by James C. Sherlock

This article is the first in a series about COVID-associated learning losses in Virginia public schools.

The contribution I hope to make is to measure learning losses and correlating factors in each of 132 school divisions horizontally against its own pre-COVID learning assessment results.

That is different than comparing Richmond to Falls Church to Wise County vertically. We will do that too, but only in knowledge differentials — gains and losses — across all grade levels, not in specific levels of knowledge attained by the students before and after COVID interruptions.

Then we will seek correlation of learning losses with other factors. At this level of aggregation of statistics, correlation is what can be done. Causation assessment requires far more information than is available to the public.

I have left out race as a factor on purpose, at least at this time. I have found that when race is included all of the rest of the data tend to be ignored. A mistake in my view. I have included a factor of percentage of students in each school division economically disadvantaged for this data run. I may check it against racial correlations later.

The measures of student achievement used here for measuring learning losses are:

  • the last SOLs taken before COVID in 2018-2019 and
  • the SOLs in the post-COVID-shutdown year of 2021-22.  

Resources over that period were teachers, kids and their parents. Some turnover in teachers and kids, but not significant at this level of aggregation. The kids were three years older, replaced by younger ones in each grade. Since SOL testing does not begin until 3rd grade, virtually all that took SOLs in 2021-22 were in the system in 2018-19.

You will see that some divisions — teachers, students and their parents together — navigated the three years between the spring of 2019 and the Spring of 22 well. Some very well. Others failed in what they tried to achieve. Some badly.

As I roll out the data in a series of articles I think readers will find the learning loss data and its horizontal and vertical correlations informative.

And in some cases surprising. Continue reading