Four elementary schools in Loudoun County met the state's benchmarks for performance on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests, according to official results released Friday, but no schools in Fauquier County reached the minimum requirements.
More than 70 percent of test-takers at four elementary schools--Emerick in Purcellville, Meadowland in Sterling, Sanders Corner in Ashburn, and Waterford--received passing grades on the tests, the standard that state officials want all schools to meet. Loudoun's remaining 36 elementary, middle or high schools failed to reach that level.
Last year, only one school in either county, Dominion Trail Elementary in Ashburn, met the accreditation standards.
"I feel good for those [four] schools," Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III said, "and I also feel good for the other schools that came very close to meeting the standards." He said he suspected that Dominion Trail was not included because "different children took the test this year."
The Standards of Learning exams, given to students this year for the second time, test a battery of academic subjects in the third, fifth and eighth grades and in high school. The tests are part of an effort to boost student performance in Virginia, but they have been criticized by Hatrick and other local school officials. Many local officials argue that the state's benchmarks are unrealistic.
"We're taking a very young test that doesn't have a proven track record, and they're using it as an extreme benchmark," Hatrick said. "Frankly, I don't think the SOL tests have yet proven their ability to do what they're supposed to do."
By 2007, schools in which fewer than 70 percent of the students pass the exams could lose their accreditation. By 2004, high school students must past several SOL tests to graduate.
Hatrick said he is more interested in using the tests to make sure schools show a "pattern of improvement," which could be measured by several years of test scores.
Districtwide, Loudoun students surpassed last year's scores on 23 out of 27 tests. Fauquier students posted gains on 24 of the SOL tests, when compared with 1998 results.
Rebecca S. Hayes, Fauquier's associate superintendent for instruction, said she is hopeful that next year a few of the county's 16 campuses will meet the state's benchmarks. About half the district's nine elementary schools came close this year, she said.
"I think teachers and students are adjusting, the mind-set is adjusting and there will be improvement," she said. "I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a third of our [elementary] schools passing next year."
Administrators at the high-scoring Loudoun schools said part of their success stems from efforts to realign the curriculum to match what is tested.
"We, as school people, are recognizing what the state wants us to do," said William M. Prokopchak, the principal at Sanders Corners.
Paul L. Vickers, the principal at Waterford Elementary, said he plans to congratulate his teachers when they return to school in two weeks. He is proud of his staff, his students and their parents, he said, but he emphasized that the Standards of Learning is merely one measure of student achievement.
"I don't think this needs to be something to send out the bells and whistles," he said.
Mirroring scores in the rest of the state, Loudoun and Fauquier students struggled the most with the history tests. In nearly every school, those scores were significantly lower than test results in other subjects.
Fewer than 45 percent of students at Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville passed the U.S. history test, yet students there scored well over the passing rate on every other SOL exam.
On the flip side, middle school students who took the algebra I scored very high. At least 85 percent of students at each middle school past the test, and at Blue Ridge Middle School in Purcellville, 100 percent of students passed.
"The children who are taking algebra I in middle school are our best math students," Hatrick said. "They're the ones accelerating."