Lions and Tigers and Math SOL scores – Oh My!!!

Word on the street is that PWCS’s pass rates on the revised and “more rigorous” Math SOL are abysmal, and hysteria has broken out across the county.  OK, hysteria might be a bit of an exaggeration because most of us are already in a summer vacation frame of mind and getting all hot and bothered when it’s 90 degrees out at 8:30 in the morning is impossible, but there has been a massive outbreak of vigorous finger pointing and hand wringing.

Told ya so.  Just saying.        Told.      Ya.      So.

We, or I to be more accurate, typically take a break from posting articles to the blog in the summer.  The snark and sarcasm factor tends to increase exponentially as the school year comes to a close, and we, or I more specifically, haven’t wanted to subject you to that.

Plus, my blog, my rules.

But I decided divert from that policy to actually put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, to comment on this mass outbreak of finger pointing and hand wringing over the “holy cow they’re low” pass rates for the Math SOL exam.  So here goes, but be forewarned, it’s my summer vacation and the snark is running freely.

Anyway, are our pass rates lower for the Math SOL this year?  Probably.

While PWCS has the scores, neither the state nor PWCS has published them, so right now everyone is still speculating.  It does appear, from conversations with friends and neighbors and commentary across the state, that our children’s pass rates are lower than the school division had hoped they’d be.  Maybe not “Oh Snap” low, but certainly below “Phew” level. And apparently that’s taken people by surprise.

Perhaps now is a good time to mention the I told you so part, in case you forgot.

Why am I being so smug and sanctimonious?  Because I warned you, our 3 dear readers, that this was coming.  A number of months ago the VA DOE applied for a waiver from NCLB.  Virtually every other state in the nation has applied for a wavier, so that’s not shocking.  Deep in the application was a brief comment about the “new and improved, more rigorous” SOL exams Virginia public school students would be taking.   Projected pass rates were 60 – 70% with the “new and improved, more rigorous” SOL exams.  Currently pass rates state-wide range from 85 – 95%, depending on the grade level and subject.  That’s a big drop.

The VA DOE didn’t keep this nefarious plan quiet – oh no – they shared it with the world.  Even put out a press release.  And made practice questions and the new on-line exam available to school divisions and parents right on the front page of the DOE’s web site.  Other school divisions that take the SOL exams before PWCS  shared their pass rates with PWCS, and they were much lower than anyone had anticipated.

So spare me the whole shock thing.

PWCS officials knew significantly lower pass rates were coming and should not have been surprised by them.  Depressed, maybe, but not surprised.

Are the new exams better?  Maybe.  The jury is still out.  Certainly the old exams, at least in my opinion, bordered on remedial and needed improvement.  Mathematicians have stated that the new Algebra exams are an improvement as they actually test legitimate Algebra content.  That’s good.  The elementary exams, at least based on what I’ve seen, are only slightly more difficult and don’t really test the content I believe ought to be tested.  That’s bad.  Yes, there are multi-step word problems now, and those are harder than one step work problems.  That’s good.  But there still aren’t timed tests on basic math facts, and automatic recall of basic math facts are vital to completing higher level math courses.  That’s bad.  So whether the new exams are actually an improvement over the old exams is up for debate.  Certainly the Algebra exams appear to be an improvement, and since we teach to the test, maybe our kids will actually learn what they really need to know instead of fluff.

So I don’t blame the VA DOE or the “new more rigorous SOL exams” for the mass hysteria finger pointing.

I blame PWCS.

PWCS knew these exams were coming and knew fail rates would be up.  Longstanding county regulations require remedial instruction for any child that fails the Math or Reading SOL exam in grades 3 – 8.  We should have had a process in place long before the end of the school year for notifying parents of the need for remedial instruction to any child who failed the SOL,, either in their report card or earlier.   That there is no process and so many parents and students are stressed out wondering about what comes next is reprehensible, and entirely preventable had PWCS had their act together.

Oh – and the county has had each child’s SOL scores for weeks, so no one should have been surprised by a fail on an exam.

Inclusion in extended courses in middle school is dependent on students achieving advanced SOL scores, and lots of kids who typically achieve an advanced score only passed proficient   this year (there are three categories of scores; Pass Advanced, which is 500 or more correct out of 600 possible; Pass Proficient, which is 400 – 500 correct out of 600; and Fail, which is below 400).  Many of those children are wondering whether they’ll be admitted to extended courses in middle school or whether they’ll be allowed to continue in their extended courses next year.  And, based on what we’ve been told, they won’t know their class assignments until the first day of school.  Imagine starting your first day of school and finding out you didn’t get any of the classes you’d expected to get.  That’s some really poor planning there.

According to my child’s middle school counselor, home room assignments should be sent home sometime in late July or early August.  When your child receives his/ her homeroom assignment you can contact the school to find out if they’ve been assigned to extended courses and discuss any changes you think might be necessary then.   I only know that because I called my child’s school and asked.  PWCS really should have sent a letter home telling parents and students this to save them the stress.

The stress and confusion parents across the county are feeling right now is unnecessary.  PWCS knew there were going to be higher fail rates.  They knew fewer kids would be achieving an advanced score.  They knew it months ago.  There should have been processes in place to inform parents and students of what a fail or just a pass means.  Leaving parents and students to guess and worry and stress out is the result of PWCS’ failure to prepare and unacceptable.

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4 Responses to “Lions and Tigers and Math SOL scores – Oh My!!!”

  1. kl Says:

    Don’t forget that under the leadership of Superintendent Steve Walts and his esteemed Math Department at the end of the 2010-2011 school year PWCS adopted a “dumbed down” math curriculum for K-8 with the academic goal to teach only to the SOL pass level standards. Meanwhile Fairfax, Loudoun, etc adopted higher standards. Soooooo, if you dumb your whole county standards down, you ought not be surprised with poor performance on state tests…

    Thanks PWCS!

  2. Michelle Says:

    UGH, the only thing our middle school DID do was to tell parents repeatedly that they had no idea the math portion would be more difficult until just recently. It’s very disappointing to see only a “don’t blame me” notice on the website without any other information from one’s principal.

    • Jane dor Says:

      Michele, that response from your middle school is so not true! PWCS has known that the exams would be more difficult for months – like since December.


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