Dear Extra Credit:

If the Catholic schools are able to sell milk at 10 cents, why does Fairfax County sell it at 50 cents?

Dorothy Flood

Vienna

Under current regulations, the food and nutrition services for the Fairfax County schools must pay their own way. There are no federal subsidies for anything but food sold to students from families with incomes low enough to qualify for the free and reduced-price meals program. County schools spokesman Paul Regnier says local dairies charge about 27 cents for each half-pint carton of milk, but the county must add to that the cost of salaries and benefits for the school cafeteria staff, and even the cost of the straw and napkin.

The Catholic Diocese of Arlington has decided to use some of its funds to subsidize the cost of milk and other foods for all of its students, but in either public or parochial schools, those few gulps of school-provided cow juice are a bargain. At local fast food restaurants and convenience stores, Regnier says, the same milk would cost you as much as $1.

Measuring Test Results

Dear Extra Credit:

A letter Aug. 23 in The Post by Rick Nelson, former president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, admittedly not an unbiased person, reminded me that the state no longer administers the Stanford 9 test. Mr. Nelson states that the state has been administering progressively easier Standards of Learning (SOL) tests over the years (to lower the bar to produce higher scores) while at the same time not administering the nationally-normed Stanford 9, which would provide a more accurate picture of student achievement in Virginia's schools.

A subsequent letter from Thomas M. Jackson Jr., president of the Virginia Board of Education, said that the state administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress test to provide a national comparison. Mr. Jackson did not address the issue of an "easier" SOL test; rather, he noted that the Virginia Board of Education has not lowered the minimum passing score for the test.

Could you please address these two issues: How does the NAEP compare as a nationally-normed test with the Stanford 9 test?

Am I correct in recalling that some subject areas of the SOL tests have been adjusted since the first tests were administered in 1998?

Therese Tuley

Fairfax Station

The NAEP test is generally considered by educational scholars the best way to measure school districts and states on a national scale, but it does not rate individual students. The federal government test shows that Virginia in recent years has been doing better, not worse, although as Nelson points out, scores for minority children in the state are still relatively low.

The average mathematics score for Virginia eighth-graders on the NAEP test has risen 12 points since 1996. The average mathematics score of African American eighth-graders in Virginia has climbed 18 points since 1996. Virginia's reading scores on the NAEP did plunge in 1994 but have come up since. The Stanford 9 results for 2002, however, showed that whatever improvements have occurred, Virginia's black ninth-graders still scored at the 22nd percentile in math procedures.

The state Board of Education lowered the passing score on several SOL history and social studies tests in November 2001. Some say the original scores were set too high by an earlier board that made them the highest in the country. Others say it was a cowardly way to weaken a vital part of the curriculum.

Jackson said the state board had not lowered the passing score on the high school reading test. The 88 percent pass rate of black students on the 2003 reading SOL test, he said, "is a reflection of the hard work of these students and the success of teachers in addressing their instructional needs."

Nelson complained that the elementary and middle school reading passing rates were much lower, which Jackson blamed on the lack of incentives in the lower grades. High school students have to pass the tests to graduate.

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