Eighty-nine percent of Asian students and 85 percent of white students in Virginia passed reading exams, compared with 66 percent of Hispanic and 65 percent of black students. The gap in reading rates has widened in the past few years among elementary school students, a finding the state plans to address by identifying strategies for improving reading skills, said Superintendent of Public Instruction James F. Lane.
“We must meet students where they are, but we must also move them to where they need to be: reading at grade level or above and ready for success in the 21st century,” Lane said in a statement.
Students begin taking Standards of Learning tests in third grade and sit for them through high school.
Across the state, 80 percent of white students in third grade last year passed reading exams, compared with 55 percent of their Hispanic classmates, a gap that has widened over time. In the 2017-2018 year, 81 percent of white students in third grade passed the exam and 59 percent of their Hispanic peers passed.
Passing rates for English-learners in reading have plunged — 35 percent of English-learners across the state passed reading tests last year, compared with 64 percent in 2016-2017.
Overall passing rates on writing and history tests dipped two and four percentage points, respectively, from 2017-2018, while scores in science remained steady. Eighty-two percent of students passed state math tests last year, compared with 77 percent in 2017-2018 and after the state revised its math standards.
Students in Northern Virginia generally performed better than students elsewhere in the state. In Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest system in Virginia and among the biggest in the country, 81 percent of students passed reading exams and 86 percent passed math exams.
Fairfax Superintendent Scott Brabrand said he was pleased the 188,000-student school system outperformed state averages but acknowledged that more must be done to close achievement gaps.
“High-performing schools still sometimes have significant gaps,” Brabrand said, adding that the school system needs to be “working to raise the bar for every child.”
Passing rates across all subjects in Alexandria City Public Schools lagged behind state averages, dipping slightly in reading, writing, science and history. Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. celebrated progress on math exams in his school system, which educates nearly 16,000 students.
Seventy percent of Alexandria students who took math Standards of Learning tests passed, a nine percentage point jump from the previous year. Hutchings credited the improvement to investments made in teaching math, including more professional learning for educators.
The Alexandria school system, he said, is working to close achievement gaps across racial groups and among students with disabilities, English-learners and the economically disadvantaged.
“It is clear to us that all of our students are not receiving the same access, and all of our students are not receiving the same academic experience,” said Hutchings, who cautioned against making comparisons among school systems that have different challenges and resources.
The school system, he said, is exploring offering more tutoring, free summer school and other ways of removing barriers that students “have no control over” but that might impede them from achieving at high levels.
Hutchings said he is glad the state has started looking beyond test scores to measure a school’s performance. Until last year, state officials relied almost exclusively on test scores to determine a school’s accreditation status, an approach criticized by some educators who argued that schools could improve their scores between school years but still fall short of state standards.
Under the new rules, accreditation for schools is based on standards that account for overall proficiency and growth in English, math and science scores. They are also assessed on absenteeism and, in high schools, dropout rates and college or career readiness.
Accreditation ratings for the 2019-2020 school year are expected to be released in September.