Prince William officials are brainstorming ways to help schools that haven't made significant progress on the state Standards of Learning exams. The county lagged behind the state on five of 10 tests given to third- and fifth-graders.

"We'll examine some of the schools where the growth is not what we'd like," said School Superintendent Edward L. Kelly.

The intervention could come in the form of more resources, extra tutorials and a refocusing of the curriculum to make sure the tested areas are covered, said Associate Superintendent for Instruction Pamela K. Gauch.

The county improved its scores on 24 of 27 tests compared with last year, the first time the tests were administered.

For the tests given in eighth grade and high school, a direct comparison could not be made because the state released only the passing rates of students who took the exam in the spring. Prince William County, in contrast, averaged the passing rates of students who took the test in the fall and spring.

By the 2006-07 school year, 70 percent of a school's students must pass tests in four basic subject areas for the school to retain its accreditation. The required passing rate is 50 percent for third-grade history and science. In addition, by 2004, high school students must pass end-of-course exams in math, English, history and science to receive a diploma.

Although the state is using the SOL tests as its sole measure of accreditation, Gauch said Prince William will look at more than a single test when gauging a school's success. There are a multitude of other tests, including the Stanford 9 test, advanced placement exams and the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), among others.

"The SOL scores would not be the only criterion," Gauch said.

Fifth-grade math and social studies stood out this year as problem spots, Kelly said. The county's passing rate was 43 percent in math and 35 percent in history, compared with a state passing rate of 51 and 46 percent, respectively.

Five Prince William elementary schools would have met the state standards this year if it weren't for those tests. One of those was Montclair Elementary School, where the passing rate on fifth-grade math and social studies was 51 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

Montclair Principal Darci Whitehead-Scanlon got the results of the SOL tests Wednesday and was so happy she spent the day calling her teachers to give them the good news. She said the social studies exam relies too much on memorization as opposed to analysis and problem-solving skills.

"I expect more of them than to be able to recite facts," Whitehead-Scanlon said.

At Antietam Elementary School in Woodbridge, which had the highest fifth-grade history passing rate of all Prince William schools last year, scores dropped this year. The passing rate fell from 61 percent to 52 percent. The school scored well in most areas compared with other county elementaries, bringing in a 90 percent pass rate in fifth-grade English.

Nevertheless, Antietam Principal Lisa Reinshuttle is already meeting with teachers to come up with ways to improve the social studies score. One idea is to help children understand the questions, which have been criticized by some teachers as being difficult to comprehend.

"I've heard teachers concerned that the way the question was phrased sometimes was tricky for them," Reinshuttle said. Antietam also might begin evaluating and working with individual students to improve their scores.

The same work must be done at the high school level, where Hylton High School Principal Wayne K. Mallard said he also is meeting with his history teachers. Hylton's lowest score on the SOL tests came in U.S. history, at 40 percent passing.

"This is one thing we really need to put a magnifying glass on," Mallard said.

Despite the work that remains to be done, Gauch said she is confident most county students will get a passing score by the 2006-07 school year.

"I think it is [achievable] for many students. For some students it isn't. It certainly is a goal to aim for," Gauch said.

CAPTION: Prince William County's Pass Rates on SOL Tests: Elementary Schools (This graphic was not available)

CAPTION: Prince William County's Pass Rates on SOL Tests: High Schools and Middle Schools (This graphic was not available)