- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

RICHMOND Virginia students improved their performance on 25 of the 28 Standards of Learning tests given last spring, the state Department of Education reported yesterday.
"These results prove our students, our teachers and our schools have risen to the new challenges," Gov. James S. Gilmore III said.
Since the first year of SOL testing in 1998, student achievement has increased on all tests, including double-digit increases on 23 tests.
Statewide pass rates on three tests decreased from spring 2000 levels. However, overall student performance on those tests was well above the required 70 percent mark, with 75 percent of students passing eighth-grade English writing and more than 80 percent passing the fifth-grade computer test and high school English writing.
The improvements were most notable on end-of-course tests that students are now taking to earn credit toward a high school diploma. For example:
The percentage of students passing Algebra I this spring was 74 percent, a gain of nine percentage points over the 2000 rate and a 34-point increase since 1998.
The statewide pass rate for Algebra II was 74 percent, a gain of 16 points over the 2000 rate and a 43-point improvement since the first year of SOL testing.
The geometry pass rate was 73 percent, a gain of six points since last year and 21 points since 1998.
The pass rates do not include high school students who passed SOL tests after participating in remedial programs, the department noted. A high school student may retake an SOL test as many times as necessary for graduation.
Beginning with the class of 2004, high school students must earn six credits by passing SOL or other approved tests to receive a standard diploma. The statewide pass rates on the two SOL tests required for graduation were 82 percent for reading and 84 percent for writing, gains of 10 and 13 percentage points, respectively, since 1998.
The achievement of black students improved sharply on the 2001 SOLs compared with last year with passing percentages increasing on 25 of the 28 tests. On 23 tests, the increases in black achievement was greater than those of white students, especially in mathematics and history.
The percentage of black students passing the Algebra I test increased by 15 percentage points, by 22 points on the Algebra II test and by 11 points on geometry.
The percentage of black students passing the Algebra I test has nearly tripled since 1998. Fifty-nine percent of black students who took the test this year passed, compared with 20 percent in 1998.
"These high pass rates show that Virginia students can meet the high academic standards of the SOL program," said state Board of Education President Kirk T. Schroder. "I can't help but wonder what would have happened if we had backed off two or three years ago when many critics said that students would never pass algebra and suggested we were setting them up for failure."
The president of Virginia's largest teacher organization the Virginia Education Association took issue with Mr. Schroder's comment.
"I can't help but wonder what the SOL story would be today if over the past few years we had not engaged in open debate and critical examination of the state's accountability," Jean Bankos said. "Let's hope that is never stifled and always valued."
She said it was not surprising that scores have risen since SOLs were implemented in 1998.
"The improved scores are the result of a curriculum that covers what is tested as well as the hard work and commitment of quality teachers and support from parents who are now more engaged with their schools," she said.
Sandra D. Bowen, senior vice president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said the business community was encouraged by the results.
Businesses believe "too many people coming out of the public education system are not prepared for this economy." She pointed to an "insufficient number of people skilled in technology" as well as a "general unpreparedness of people for the work world, whether it's critical thinking or writing."

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