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Added testing for Virginia students will help determine reading and math gaps
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Added testing for Virginia students will help determine reading and math gaps

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We need to be really clear that the magnitude of the declines that we're seeing relative to a typical year, they're striking. 

Schools across Virginia will soon administer additional testing - similar to Standards of Learning tests - to assess how students in grades 3 through 8 are doing in math and reading after a tumultuous two school years. 

The mandated tests are part of state legislation signed earlier this year that requires schools to administer a "through-year growth assessment system" that includes testing at the beginning, middle and end of the school year. The legislation requires partial implementation for this school year, and full implementation for the 2022-23 school year. 

Spring SOLs already account for the testing at the end of the year, so these new growth assessments will be used for the fall testing during this school year, and then the fall and winter testing in 2022-23.

The growth assessments are similar to the format of SOLs, but by law, they have to be shorter tests. The material covered will be from the previous year, to help teachers identify unfinished that may have been interrupted by the pandemic. 

Students will take the tests on computers, just like they take SOLs, unless there's a documented need for a paper test. That means online students will have to take the tests in person at their home schools, in keeping with Virginia Department of Education security protocols.

The tests are meant to be a baseline, so there are no pass/fail grades. Rather, the information gleaned from the tests will allow educators to see where gaps exist in reading and math for individual students. The Virginia Department of Education is working to create a parent portal so that parents can see how their children performed on the tests, which is scheduled to be up and running in late fall. Households without internet service will receive printed reports.  

"These new assessments are timely in that they will provide teachers and other educators with baseline data showing exactly where students are in reading and mathematics as they return to school after the disruptions to learning caused by the pandemic," said James Lane, state superintendent of public instruction, in a written release. "Teachers will use performance data from the fall tests to craft instruction that meets the individual needs of every student, with the goal of achieving proficiency or significant growth by the end of the year."

The new tests this fall come on the heels of SOL scores released last month that show significant drops in pass rates collectively across the state in math and reading, though not all students participated in SOL testing thanks to COVID-19 flexibility offered to all Virginia students. 

Math rates plummeted from 82% two years ago to 54% this past spring. About 69% of students passed reading exams this past spring, down from 78% from two years ago. There were no SOLs for the 2019-20 school year because the pandemic shuttered schools in March 2020 ahead of testing.

Hanover County - the only one among Virginia's 132 school divisions to offer five days of in-person instruction for the whole school year - remained above state averages with 81% pass rates in reading and 78% in math.  

While accreditation is waived for the current school year, it'll pick up again in 2022-23 and the new assessments can be used toward accreditation if they show larger gains in math and reading than comparisons between annual spring SOL results, said Charles Pyle, Virginia Department of Education spokesman. For example, schools may see better growth in reading and math by using the fall growth assessment that'll be taken soon and comparing that to the SOLs next spring. 

Alternatively, schools could continue to compare SOLs from last spring and those of next spring. Pyle said accreditation will be determined by the better of the two scenarios.  

The testing window for schools started Aug. 23 and runs through Oct. 15.  

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