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Virginia students make gains on revised math SOLs

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Local,Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Student performance improved on Virginia's more rigorous mathematics tests last school year and pass rates were relatively flat on revised English, history and science tests, state education officials said Wednesday.

Over the past few years, officials have revised the Standards of Learning tests aimed at better preparing students for college or post-graduation employment. The exams place more of a focus on critical thinking and problem solving rather than traditional multiple-choice tests. More challenging tests had sent results down notably, but educators expected it would take several years for students and teachers to adjust.

"The board knew that, with 132 school divisions and more than 1,850 schools, meeting these expectations would be a multiyear process as teachers, principals and other educators align curriculum and pedagogy to the higher standards," Board of Education President Christian N. Braunlich said in a news release.

Overall, 74 percent of students passed the math assessments on the Standards of Learning in the 2013-2014 school year, compared with 71 percent the year before, the Virginia Department of Education reported.

"The statewide focus on teaching students to be problem solvers and to apply what they have learned in mathematics in real-life situations is producing results," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven Staples.

Officials also said 74 percent of students passed the reading tests, compared with 75 percent last school year and 75 percent passed the writing portion, compared with 76 percent the year before.

In science, 80 percent passed their grade-level or end-of-course tests, down from 81 percent in the 2012-2013 school year. Eighty-four percent passed their history and social science tests, down from 85 percent.

Virginia plans to release its annual state accreditation ratings based on test results and other measures next month.

Staples said the increase in the number of schools that fall short of the state's accreditation standards "must be viewed in the context of the higher standards and changing assessments" that will provide opportunities for educators to identify best practices that will help students meet the new benchmarks.

"Students are not learning less; the state has raised the bar," Staples said.

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Online:

Virginia Department of Education: http://www.doe.virginia.gov

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Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum.

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