Students taking Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests are likely to see lower scores than last year, thanks to the introduction of harder English and Science standards, state education officials reported Friday.

While testing is underway in many schools, the Virginia Department of Education released preliminary statewide results for reading and science tests taken by high school students last fall and winter that showed passing rates dropping by as much as 14 percent.

The drop in pass rates for fifth- and eighth-grade writing tests taken in March and April were closer to 20 percent.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said parents should not be alarmed by the dip in performance. “The lower scores and pass rates are a sign that the state is expecting more of students so they will be better prepared for college or the workforce, not that students are learning less.”

The drop is not predicted to be as dramatic as the one that played out last year with the introduction of tougher math standards. In Alexandria, for example, the math pass rate for eighth-graders plummeted by 40 points.

Prince William County schools issued a release Friday saying that the county’s early analysis of results were showing similar performance, though with slightly higher pass rates for writing tests for eighth-grade and high school students. They said schools would not be punished for the lower scores.

“Whatever the final numbers show must be considered in context,” says Prince William Schools Superintendent Steve Walts. “Small near-term declines in pass rates, if they occur, should not obscure the reality that the higher standards are giving students greater ability to make use of what they learned. We are teaching them more and requiring them to do more because what they gain will last a lifetime.”