Dear Extra Credit,
I have been trying for months to obtain Standards of Learning (SOL) results from the tests taken in the spring of 2004. Originally, I was advised that they were typically posted in the "fall." Well, we're now up to January 2005 and they're still not on the Virginia Department of Education Web site. I realize individual schools have their results as do individual students, but it is most helpful to compare results between schools, which is not possible until they're made available. Can you find out when they'll be available?
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Figuring out what is going on in your schools is not always easy. The accounts children bring home, though colorful, may not be entirely accurate. Notes sent home get lost. Neighborhood chatter is unreliable.
To help, Post staff writer Jay Mathews, who has been covering schools for 22 years, will answer a reader question each week -- or maybe two or three if they are easy ones.
Please send your questions -- along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number -- to Extra Credit, The Washingtom Post, 51 Monroe St., Suite 500, Rockville, Md. 20850. Or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parent of students
at Thoreau Middle School
and Madison High School
Shortly after I sent your interesting question to knowledgeable Virginia Department of Education officials in Richmond, the 2004 pass rates popped up on the department's Web site. Spokesman Charles B. Pyle sent me a long explanation for the delay. I find that when describing what happens in modern bureaucracies, the insider's words are best, so here are large chunks of what Pyle told me:
"The federal law requires the department to calculate and report Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) ratings for schools and school divisions prior to the beginning of the school year. To meet this requirement, the department calculated preliminary AYP ratings during the summer using test data that were still being reviewed by school divisions for coding errors made at the [school] building level. These coding errors on the part of building-level personnel include the inadvertent misclassification of students. These errors typically involve mistakes in the entry on test documents of student demographic information or the mislabeling of first-time tests as 'retakes' and vice versa.
"Schools divisions in the past have received SOL test results in the summer before the department as a quality-control measure in order to catch and correct these coding errors. Only after all 132 divisions had reviewed their data and submitted corrections would the department receive a statewide file (actually, a series of CDs containing unformatted data) from the testing vendor for use in calculating accreditation ratings and school-by-school pass rates.
"Last year, in order to calculate AYP ratings before the beginning of the school year, the department directed the vendor to ship unverified test results to the department as well as the school divisions. Results for school divisions were shipped in 'waves,' with the results of school divisions that tested earlier in the spring being received by the department before results from divisions that tested in late May or June.
"The department reported preliminary AYP ratings on Aug. 19. As expected, the department received numerous appeals from school divisions because of the preliminary nature of the data used to calculate the ratings. A process was in place for dealing with these appeals. Most of the appeals filed by school divisions were based on the above-described coding errors. . . .
"As a result of the process of calculating AYP and processing the above-described appeals, the department did not receive 'final' statewide results from the vendor until late November and early December. It is important to remember that these results arrive at the department in the form of a series of CDs containing unformatted data. It takes several weeks to extract and disaggregate the data and create spreadsheets on statewide and school-by-school test results.
"The department is in the process of developing an automated [system] that will greatly streamline the process. . . .
"This system, which is now being piloted, is expected to be fully functional by July 2006."
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