SOL exams have more challenging content
Virginia students' scores dropped dramatically on math exams, with just 49 percent of test-takers passing the Algebra I test last fall, after the state made its math standards more challenging.
Barely half of students who took the Standards of Learning, or SOL, Algebra II test last semester passed the exam, compared to the 85-percent pass-rate in 2010. In geometry, 63 percent of students passed, down from 79 percent the prior year.
|Fewer students passing - First-time test-takers of Virginia Standards of Learning exams|
|Source: Virginia Department of Education|
|Test||Fall 2011||Fall 2010||Fall 2009|
State officials said they were expecting scores to decrease -- a typical side-effect of introducing a more rigorous test -- but believe they needed higher standards to ensure their students were college-ready.
"I wouldn't consider them a guinea-pig class, but I would say we all get better at what we do, every time we do something," said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education. "As teachers become more comfortable with the standards, we will see even more innovative ways to teach content, and we will see teachers and students growing together -- that's historically what happens."
Virginia reviews and revises its standards every six years. Michael Bolling, the state's mathematics coordinator, said the new math tests swap out some multiple-choice questions in favor of writing in the answer, and in some cases ask students to sort items into lists, create a graph, or "shade in" part of a figure.
There is also more of an emphasis on real-world applications of the mathematical concepts. "First they have to identify what the problem is asking, and then they solve it using strategies learned in their classes," Bolling said.
Mathematical concepts that weren't previously included on the assessments are now part of the test; for certain grades, that means probabilities and statistical distributions. Virginia is also expecting students to learn some concepts earlier, such as the order of operations, which will now be taught in the fifth and sixth grades instead of the seventh grade.
Virginia's data reflects students who took the SOL tests in the fall for the first time. These students will have more opportunities to take the exams, which most students take in the spring.
Gloria Allen, the pre-k to 12 math coordinator for Fairfax County Public Schools, said parents are "bracing themselves" for lower scores. New social studies standards introduced last year generated similar results, and new English and science standards will be implemented this fall.
Only students at Edison took the math test in the fall, and Allen said scores were slightly higher than the state's, although she declined to release the preliminary numbers.
"We are telling our teachers that even though it's predicted the kids won't do as well on this test, we certainly would like that to not be the case," she said.