Loudoun County students scored higher on this year's Standards of Learning tests than they did last year, according to preliminary figures released Thursday. They also outperformed their peers in the rest of the state on every test and in every grade.

Loudoun students posted gains on 23 of the 27 SOL tests, mirroring trends in other Northern Virginia school districts. But eighth-grade reading, math and writing scores were lower in the county than last year's results. Fifth-grade reading results also dropped slightly, but Loudoun officials said final scores from the state may not show any difference.

The numbers were compiled by county officials and could change slightly when the state releases official results for school districts in a few weeks.

It is unclear how many of Loudoun's 40 public schools met the state's accreditation standards: By 2007, a school could lose its accreditation if less than 70 percent of its test-takers pass. District officials said that by week's end, they had not finished sorting and analyzing the data and may not release scores for each school. However, state officials generally release school-by-school results with their final tally.

Last year, Dominion Trail Elementary in Ashburn was the only school in the county to meet the state's benchmarks for performance on the exams. Schools spokeswoman Molly Converse said more than one school may have met the accreditation criteria this year.

This was the second year that Virginia students were required to take the SOLs, a battery of tests in basic subjects, which are part of a controversial effort to boost educational standards. Students in grades three, five and eight and many in high school took the exams during a 10-day period in May.

In a few years, the tests will take on an even greater meaning. Besides the accreditation question, graduation requirements will take effect in the 2003-04 school year. High school students who have not passed six SOL tests will be in jeopardy of not graduating.

In Loudoun, school officials had predicted that test scores would improve the second year. Students have been taught test-taking tips for the exams, which are no longer the unknown they were last year.

But mostly, administrators said, they have been working to ensure that classroom instructors are teaching the material that is tested.

"The improvements show that the work of our staff in refining delivery of instruction and aligning the curriculum with the state's new SOL test program is helping greater numbers of students achieve passing scores," Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III said in a statement.

According to the district, scores in some categories improved over last year's results almost 15 percentage points. About 61 percent of fifth-graders passed the social studies test this time, compared with about 47 percent last time; almost 71 percent of eighth-grade and high school students who took the Algebra I test passed this time, compared with about 57 percent last time.

An estimated 91 percent of fifth-graders passed the computer technology test, compared with about 84 percent last year. More than 88 percent of eighth-graders passed the science test, while 85 percent did in 1998.

Eighth-grade math scores dropped from 71 percent last year to about 64 percent this year. Writing test scores also fell in the eighth grade, from about 80 percent to 76 percent.

Many Loudoun eighth-graders are taking Algebra I instead of the regular grade-level course. "The students who were left to take [the eighth-grade math] were not our stronger students," said Herbert D. Root, the district's testing supervisor.

The lowest score by far was on the U.S. history test given to high school students. Only 38 percent of Loudoun students passed that test, compared with 32 percent of all Virginia students. State officials acknowledged that they have heard from local educators across Virginia who have complained about the poor showing on SOL social studies tests.

Other Northern Virginia school districts also did better on the SOLs this year. Alexandria students posted gains on all 27 subject tests, Arlington students scored higher on 25 of the 27 exams and Prince William improved on 24 tests. Fairfax County student scores increased on all but one subject test.

Comparing SOL Results

Grade 3

Test Virginia Loudoun Loudoun

1999 1999 1998

English 61 73.67 68.2

Math 68 82.28 77.28

Social studies 68 82.28 69.29

Science 68 82.18 77.82

Grade 5

Test Virginia Loudoun Loudoun

1999 1999 1998

Reading 69 80.28 80.61

Writing 81 86.23 78.58

Math 51 64.07 62.01

Social studies 46 60.84 47.45

Science 67 82.06 75.65

Computer technology 81 90.83 83.81

Grade 8

Test Virginia Loudoun Loudoun

1999 1999 1998

Reading 67 75.47 78.18

Writing 70 75.54 79.67

Math 60 63.57 71.03

Social studies 40 60.57 54.72

Science 78 88.11 85.02

Computer technology 72 82.22 78.04

High School

Test Virginia Loudoun Loudoun

1999 1999 1998

Literature 75 80.76 76.28

Writing 81 84.71 78.77

Algebra I 56 70.96 56.50

Algebra II 51 66.55 68.71

Geometry 62 74.92 68.71

Earth science 65 80.46 71.82

Biology 64 88.54 72.39

Chemistry 64 81.39 78.34

World history

from 1000 47 70.37 63.64

U.S. history 32 38.23 37.08

SOURCE: Loudoun County Public Schools