Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

What Can We Glean from the SOL Scores?

There’s good news to report about the 2014-2015 Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores. Pass rates were up significantly and fairly consistently across core subjects, both in Alexandria and statewide. Changes to the SOLs over the preceding several years to make them more difficult had resulted in lower scores across the state, including Alexandria. But scores are improving now that the tests are no longer being revised, and teachers have a better idea of what their students should expect.

Some general observations I’ve made from looking at the detailed data:

  • Compared to two years ago, math and reading pass rates have improved for all Alexandria students as well as for the different subgroups that are identified by the state (Asian, Black, Hispanic, White, Economically Disadvantaged, Limited English Proficiency and Students with Disabilities).
  • In reading, third-graders in Alexandria are exactly on par with the state average, with a 75% pass rate, up 11 percentage points from just a year ago. But as you go up to 8th grade, the state average passing percentages stay in the upper 70s and low 80s, while Alexandria’s pass rates dip into the high 60s and low 70s. That suggests to me that programs such as the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium, which tutors at-risk students so that all kids are reading on grade level by the end of third grade, are making a positive difference, and that we ought to look at why the pass rates diverge for students in the higher grades.
  • Writing pass rates were basically flat, except for the Limited English Proficiency group, which had an eight percentage point drop from two years ago.

Closing the achievement gap between minority students and white students has been a high priority for ACPS for many years, and in that regard, the news is mixed. Scores in all subject areas for black students are higher than two years ago, particularly in reading and math, and are similar to scores for black students statewide. An achievement gap still exists between black and white students in ACPS as measured by the SOLs, but because pass rates for black students went up by more percentage points than pass rates for white students, the gap has narrowed somewhat.

Students with disabilities improved their pass rates in all subjects compared with two years ago, and the achievement gap between this subgroup and the all-student average has narrowed a bit.

The opposite is true for Hispanic students. The pass rates for Hispanic students in all subjects except math were flat or down slightly from two years ago. Because white students in Alexandria outperform state averages for white students, and Hispanic students in Alexandria underperform the state averages for that subgroup, the achievement gap between those groups in Alexandria is wider than it is across the state as a whole. We need to look at the root causes of this discrepancy. One possibility is that Alexandria serves as a “gateway” community—a landing pad for immigrants—so they may be less proficient in English, for example, than statewide average Hispanic students.

One problem with looking at the aggregate data for the school division compared to the state, or for particular schools within ACPS compared to the division, is that the data do not speak to the important question of how individual students, including those who pass all of their SOLs, are progressing from year to year. Nor do they measure the same population of students from year to year. Alexandria schools have very high rates of student turnover, even within the 183-day school-year, compared to the rest of the state, and have seen a strong influx of English-language-learners in recent years.

SOLs also provide little direct information about the quality of the classroom teaching and the extent to which a love of learning and exploration are instilled in students. “As much as we celebrate SOL scores, we should also be celebrating the close relationships that exist between our teachers, staff and students,” says Melissa Harrington, a parent of two ACPS students and past president of the George Mason Elementary PTA. “This kind of teaching and relationship-building cannot be measured by a test but it can be felt by students, parents and teachers.”

As the number of students in nearly every classroom in every grade and at every school within ACPS increases this school year, that type of relationship-building will inevitably become more challenging for all of our teachers.

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Slow Down!

blog-signWhen a pedestrian was fatally struck by a hit-and-run driver at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Braddock Road last week, I was reminded of the many close calls I’ve seen between cars and T.C. students around the King Street campus, including a near-miss involving one of my own daughters. Students are not always as obedient of the “walk” and “don’t walk” signs at pedestrian crossings as they should be, but motorists are equally careless when it comes to red lights (especially right turns on red) and pedestrian right-of-ways. Slowing down around school zones not only helps to keep our kids safe, but also has the beneficial effect of slowing down other motorists around you.

A couple of reminders for T.C. parents regarding drop-off:

  • Students are not permitted to be dropped-off or picked up from the main school entrance (which faces the parking garage) from 8:00 to 8:30 a.m. and from 3:00 to 3:30 p.m. This is when buses and vans are unloading and loading special needs students, and extra traffic in the circle during those times causes undue congestion.
  • Students should be dropped off at the school entrance that’s across from the Chinquapin Aquatics Center and directly under the rotunda. It’s helpful if parents remember to drive up to the top of the pull-off lane in front of the school doors so that other cars can pull off behind you. Then proceed to the small circle at the corner of the Chinquapin field to turn around. Please do not use the circle at the Chinquapin entrance to turn around.
  • Allow plenty of time and be patient, especially for the first few weeks of school.

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Port City Notebook in the News

Yesterday, in its commentary section, the Roanoke Times published an abridged version of a Port City Notebook post from last fall, “Why Should it be Easier to Own and Operate a Gun than a Car?”

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