For Prince William County schools, Thursday really was Christmas in July.
That's when the school system received what it has awaited for weeks: nine boxes containing summary reports and other information on the most recent round of the Standards of Learning tests.
Prince William has had reports on individual students since late June. Assured by the state that summary reports for schools and the school district were right around the corner, school officials refrained from telling principals to whip out their calculators and start adding.
Besides, trying to calculate scores for the 42,000 students who took the tests while trying to deal with the end of the school year would have been impossibly unwieldy, said Holly Hess, director of planning and assessment.
Richard Schneider, vice president of the testing company Harcourt Brace Educational Measurement, said results were sent out on a rolling basis, based on how soon the firm got information from the individual school districts. Each district was able to set its own testing date within a window of a few weeks.
"There's no actual date it had to be in their hands," Schneider said.
Smaller school districts, such as Manassas, Manassas Park and Alexandria, have in some cases received their summary reports earlier, or took the time to calculate averages on their own.
But the delay caused some problems in Prince William County, said Superintendent Edward L. Kelly.
"Getting the data back in a timely basis is critical to us if you're going to do any remediation," Kelly said.
Also, though it might sound minor, getting the test scores during the quieter summer months allow school administrators a chance to make adjustments for the next school year. The later the scores arrive, the less time for changes. Only six weeks remain before school starts in the fall.
Betty Covington, principal of Dumfries Elementary School, said she was looking forward to getting the results for just that reason.
"If these tests are so important, and the state is putting so much emphasis on it, why couldn't they get them back to us?" Covington said.
Maybe glitches such as this are the reason the penalties associated with the tests don't go into effect until 2006, Covington surmised. "Maybe they had predicted all these problems would occur," she said.
Prince William is not alone. It appears that large school districts throughout the state were all in the same boat. Fairfax County, for instance, got its scores only about a week before Prince William.
"It was a major issue. Massive," said Fairfax schools spokesman Paul Regnier, who said summer school was pushed back a week to accommodate the late-arriving scores.
In Virginia Beach, a school system of about 77,000 students, the test scores arrived Wednesday. Edwin Brown, assistant superintendent for accountability and technology, said the school system decided to wait before transferring records of rising sixth- and ninth-graders to their new schools, because they wanted the scores to accompany them. Analysis of the scores won't be ready for a school board retreat at the end of July that is designed to hash out plans for the upcoming school year.
But Virginia Beach was lucky. "About 24 to 48 hours before we got the scores, they said they weren't coming this week," Brown said.
Now that it has the scores, Prince William might release its results to the public as early as next week.
"I want to give the schools a chance to have them first," Kelly said.