In "Passing the Test" [editorial, Aug. 8] The Post advised Maryland to look to Virginia for "comfort" in designing high school graduation tests. Let's look at the facts.

On Virginia's Standards of Learning (SOL) reading test in 2003, 56 percent of Virginia's black students passed the third-grade test, 49 percent passed the eighth-grade test and more than 88 percent passed in high school.

Did students suddenly learn to read after the eighth grade, or did state officials lower the bar?

In 2003 Virginia stopped giving the nationally normed Stanford tests for students. Now parents have no way to measure how their children are doing by any national standard, much less against their competition in a world economy.

When the SOL-Stanford comparison did exist, it showed serious discrepancies. On the 2002 Stanford reading test, Virginia's black ninth-graders scored at the 39th percentile -- well below the national average 50th percentile, yet 88 percent of black students passed the 2003 high school reading SOL.

For all Virginia students, in math procedures, Stanford scores dropped from the 46th percentile in 1998 to the abysmal 39th percentile in 2002, yet 78 percent of Virginia students passed the 2003 algebra SOL. Virginia's response to troublesome Stanford scores? Stop giving the test.

In 1997 California adopted structured reading and math programs. Between 1998 and 2002, second-graders scoring above the national average in reading rose from 40 percent to 54 percent, despite a large population for whom English was not the first language. The number of sixth-graders scoring above the national average in math went from 46 percent to 60 percent.

Schools do improve when teachers are given tested, proven programs.

RICK NELSON

Falls Church

The writer is a former president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.