While pass rates for Pittsylvania County Schools remained somewhat stagnant for the last school year, Danville schools saw decreases in pass rates for writing, science, and history and social studies, according to the latest Standards of Learning results recently released by the state.
The SOL tests measure five primary categories: reading, writing, science, mathematics, history and social science.
For Danville Public Schools, the pass rates for each of the five subjects sits close to half, about 30% below Virginia state averages.
The 2018-19 pass rates for students in Danville schools dropped compared to last year in every category except mathematics, which increased slightly.
Danville Public Schools Superintendent Stanley Jones said they consistently monitor their tests and weren’t surprised by the the results from the Virginia Department of Education. The district already has reconfigured the instruction department and created a new federally funded administrative position to provide instructional support and professional development, particularly for elementary teachers who teach reading.
“The intent there is to really ensure that we are focusing on reading instruction… there’s been more of a focus on comprehension at the earlier grades, rather than reading,” Jones said.
Jones said their top priorities are building the foundation for students in reading and math, as those are important for the other subjects.
While there are signs of progress and growth — such as the improvements in mathematics — he wants to see more improvement.
“I don’t want to make excuses,” he said. “The bottom line is that we have work to do in all of our schools.”
Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, which reopened for the 2018-19 school year, saw pass rates significantly below the state average, ranging from 20% to 31%.
The Danville district, which has about 5,600 students, includes six elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools.
Pass rates for Pittsylvania County Schools, on the other hand, exceeded the state average in each subject.
“We feel good about that, feel good about the hard work of our staff,” said Pittsylvania County Superintendent Mark Jones.
Scores for Pittsylvania County Schools saw a slight — between 1% and 3% — decrease in every subject except for mathematics, which saw a 4% increase.
Mark Jones credited the pass rates to pacing, benchmark assessments, and a rigorous school improvement planning process.
For most of the demographic subgroups listed in the report, Pittsylvania County Schools exceed the state average pass rates.
“We feel very good about what we’re doing, as it’s impacting all our students,” Mark Jones said.
Statewide, the shifts in pass rates can be at least partially attributed to changes in standards and testing practices, said Charles Pyle, director of media relations for the state’s department of education
In mathematics, which saw a 5% jump from the 2017-18 school year, new tests with new benchmarks for passing and advanced proficiency were introduced. After the new mathematics standards were approved by the state Board of Education in 2016, schools have been preparing for the past three years.
“That [change] alone really results in a new trend line in the subject,” Pyle said.
As a result of last year’s revisions to the Standards of Accreditation, high school students across the state also are taking fewer SOL tests. Once a student completes the necessary testing in a subject area, they don’t have to continue taking the tests, whereas before students had to take the tests if they were enrolled in the class.
This change, Pyle said, had a particularly significant effect on the history and social science pass rate, which has dropped 6% over the past three years.
“Now you only have students who haven’t passed a history test taking the test,” Pyle said.
For the Danville district, the shift in the pass rate for history and social science was particularly noticeable: a 15% decline, leaving the pass rate at 49% for the district.
“These changes were significant and performance on last year’s SOL tests marks the beginning of new trend lines in mathematics, science and history,” James Lane, Virginia superintendent of public instruction, said in statement.
The numbers showed achievement gaps between different demographic groups. Statewide, 89% of Asian students and 85% of white students passed their reading exams, while 65% of black students and 66% of Hispanic students passed.
Pyle said the department of education is most concerned about the reading achievement gaps among elementary students.
Accreditation ratings for the 2019-20 school year are expected to be released in September. These ratings reflect achievement in math, science, and reading, elimination of achievement gaps, and other school quality indicators.
Caleb Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.
Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.