Fauquier County students generally performed better on this year's Standards of Learning tests than they did last year, with elementary school students outscoring most of their counterparts throughout the state, according to preliminary results released Tuesday. High school marks, though also improved for the most part, still lag behind those for other counties.

As expected, none of the county's schools met the state's minimum requirements for student performance.

By 2007, a school will risk losing its accreditation unless at least 70 percent of its students pass the tests. Beginning with the 2003-04 school year, high school students must pass six SOLs to graduate.

The tests were given in May to students in grades 3, 5 and 8 and in high school. The SOLs tested students on basic subjects such as math, history, English and science. Only 3 percent of Virginia public schools passed last year. Statewide, the passing rate this year has not been determined.

School officials said the Fauquier scores, compiled by the county, could change slightly in a few weeks when the state releases its official figures.

School Board member John Williams said he was impressed with this year's improvement. He said he remains confident that by 2007, all the county's will reach the 70-percent mark.

"There is hope," Williams said. "We had some moderate successes, and we're just getting into the mixing pan with this. Overall, Fauquier is showing some terrific improvement when compared to the rest of the state."

Fauquier students in grades 3, 5 and 8 scored higher than last year on 13 of 16 tests, with the biggest jumps in fifth-grade writing and social studies. Compared with the rest of the state, the county's scores in the elementary grades were higher on all tests; the middle school scores were higher on all but one test.

P.B. Smith Elementary School in Warrenton was the most successful elementary school. At least 70 percent of its students passed all but one exam. Central Elementary School has the furthest to go, with a 70 percent pass rate on five of 10 tests. Countywide, scores decreased only slightly in third-grade math, fifth-grade English and eighth-grade writing.

Fifth-grade math and social studies proved to be the toughest exams. Only half of the county's fifth-graders passed either test--although the social studies scores improved markedly over last year. The highest score in the county was achieved by fifth-graders taking the computer technology test. Nearly 86 percent passed.

At Fauquier High School, scores went up in nine of 11 subjects, with large increases in Algebra 1 and 2. At Liberty High School, scores also increased in nine of 11 subjects, with big jumps in writing and chemistry.

But compared with the rest of the state, the county's high school students lag behind in seven of 11 subjects. Math and history plagued the secondary schools as well. Fewer than half the students at Fauquier High passed Algebra 1, and only 30 percent passed U.S. history. At Liberty High, only 37 percent passed Algebra 1 and 24 percent passed U.S. history.

School Board member Ernest Gray said he was generally pleased with the results, especially at the elementary schools. But he acknowledged that the county has a "way to go" to improve the scores of its secondary students.

"Algebra is so critical and in so many high school math [classes], if you don't have a good basis of algebra, you struggle all the way through," Gray said. "We may need to key in some more help at the early algebra, middle school level to help carry that success into high school math."

Rebecca Hayes, associate superintendent for instruction, predicted that the county will make greater progress as students and teachers become more accustomed to the SOLs.

The state school board recently approved a project that will spell out what material instructors need to teach students. Hayes said the project will be especially helpful in areas such as history, because the tests question students on specific facts that they might not have necessarily gone over in class.

And because the tests are so new, Hayes said, it's hard to tell how the county's students are really doing after only two years.

"Each grade can have different complexions, so 3 or 4 percentage points is not that critical," Hayes said. "We want to focus on long-term patterns instead of scores from only two years."

CAPTION: Comparing SOL Results (This graphic was not available)