The Virginia Department of Education last week released results from the statewide Standards of Learning tests, showing Loudoun students making progress toward reaching pre-pandemic scores, but with much work still to be done.
From spring 2021 to spring 2022, Loudoun’s pass rates for all SOLs increased or remained the same. But VDOE numbers show local students still have some ground to gain to get back to the pass rates of the last pre-pandemic year of testing in spring of 2019.
That year, 87% of Loudoun students passed their English writing SOL. Because of the pandemic, no SOL tests were administered in the 2019-2020 school year. And when they were tested again in the spring of the 2021 school year, the pass rate had dropped six points to 81%—and Loudoun schools gained no ground last year, with 81% passing once again.
Math and science SOLs showed the biggest pandemic drop for Loudoun County students. In math, the 2021 pass rate was 64%, a 23-point drop from the pre-pandemic 87% pass rate. Students gained back 10 percentage points this year, reflecting progress is still less than halfway to pre-pandemic levels.
In science, Loudoun saw a 16-point drop in pass rates during the pandemic, from 88% before the pandemic began. Since last year, Loudoun regained only three points, reaching a 75% pass rate.
History and social science SOL pass rates showed the most progress, after dropping 18 points during the pandemic down to 71% and regaining 10 points this year for an 81% pass rate.
In reading, 84% of Loudoun students achieved a passing score in spring 2019. The pass rate dropped five points in 2021 and gained back one point this year. However, because there was a less rigorous proficiency standard on the 2021-2022 reading SOL, students appear to have done better than they actually did, according to the VDOE.
Black and economically disadvantaged students in Loudoun also continued to see lower pass rates than their peers. For example, on the math SOL Black students had dropped 26 points from their pre-pandemic 76% pass rate and regained 12 points this year to reach a 62% pass rate. Economically disadvantaged students had dropped 35 points in spring 2021 tests but rebounded by 17 points this year to reach a pass rate of 51%.
Those results reflect statewide trends.
Across Virginia, gaps between pre-pandemic performance in 2021-2022 were much wider among Black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students, English learners and students with disabilities, according to the VDOE.
Loudoun school administrators highlighted bright spots in the test results in a press release after the results were announced Aug. 18. Historically, students in Loudoun County Public Schools have done well compared to statewide scores, and the most recent results reflect that.
With the help of specialized instructional assistance, Loudoun County students with disabilities and English learners scored higher than similar students across the state. Students with disabilities in Loudoun County last year had a pass rate of 50% in reading, whereas their counterparts within the state had a pass rate of 43%. For math, Loudoun students with disabilities had a pass rate of 45%, compared to 39% statewide.
Meanwhile, English learners had a 36% pass rate in reading compared to a 32% pass rate statewide, and a 40% pass rate in math compared to 36% statewide.
“I am extremely encouraged by these results,” Superintendent Scott Ziegler stated. “Not only did our SOL scores improve or remain stable, they did so while seeing a significant increase in the number of students participating in SOL testing. I am also heartened that students with disabilities and English learners scored above the state average on these assessments.”
According to the school division, 34 Loudoun schools increased their pass rates on the reading SOL test by at least five percentage points and 50 schools increased their pass rates in the math SOL test by at least 10 percentage points. Another 34 schools increased their pass rates on the science SOL test by at least 10 points. Ziegler said he is “excited for the future.”
“While it’s too soon to say that the learning loss brought about by the pandemic has been overcome, or that academic life has returned completely to normal, I think these scores reflect the outstanding effort and commitment to excellence our teachers and staff have made on behalf of LCPS students,” Ziegler wrote. “Knowing that we can never be complacent about academic achievement, we will analyze the data and make adjustments as necessary, and I think these test scores show that Loudoun County Public Schools is heading in the right direction.”
This past school year was the return to in-person learning for all 132 Virginia school divisions. A VDOE analysis of statewide data shows a strong correlation between in-person instruction during the 2020-2021 school and higher achievement on the spring 2022 SOLs. For example, 69% of students who experienced in-person instruction for nearly all of 2020-2021, and 62% of students who experienced in-person instruction for most of 2020-2021 passed their 2022 math tests, compared with 39% and 37% who experienced nearly all or mostly remote instruction.
“The bottom line is that in-person instruction matters. When we compare the 2021-2022 data with achievement in 2020-2021—when the majority of our students were learning remotely or on hybrid schedules—we can see the difference our teachers made once they were reunited with their students in their classrooms,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow in the press release.
This year also saw an increase in the percentage of students taking SOL tests. More than 96% of Loudoun students enrolled in an SOL-related course took a state assessment in 2022, a significant increase from the previous year, when VDOE opt-out waivers resulted in participation rates varying from 67% for reading to 73% for science. Participation rates are now closer to pre-pandemic years when at least 99% of students were tested in every content area, according to the VDOE release.
“The first step in addressing the learning loss our students have experienced is to dive into the SOL data at the state, division and school levels and identify the instructional supports and interventions students require individually and in the aggregate to get back on track to grade-level proficiency,” said Balow. “This is especially critical for our youngest learners who have spent more than a third of their early elementary years without the benefit of in-person instruction.”
This fall, VDOE will introduce individualized progress reports for students in grades 1-8 that will allow parents to see where their children are succeeding and where they have fallen behind. The department will pilot the progress reports in selected school divisions before making them available for students and parents statewide.