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County Passing Rates Fall, Achievement Gap Widens on New Math SOLs

County students with disabilities had a passing rate of 44 percent on the math test.

Prince William County Public Schools students met or exceeded Virginia school district averages on the 2011-2012 Virginia Standard of Learning (SOL) tests, including the tougher math standards the state introduced last year. 

"From everything I've seen, we did quite well," PWCS Director of Communications Phil Kavits said. "We certainly matched or outpaced the state in virtually every category. Then with some of these subgroups, there was some real significant improvement over the state averages." 

Test PWCS Pass Average (All county) Virginia Average English reading 89 percent of all county students and all grade levels 89 percent  English writing 92 percent 89 percent History and social science 87 percent  85 percent  Mathematics 71 percent 68 percent Science 92 percent 91 percent

The percentage of county students who passed in English was the same as the 2010-2011 school year. In history and social science, the percentage of students who passed was up three percentage points, and in science the percentage of students who passed was up two percentage points, from the 2010-2011 school year.

The tougher math tests meant that the percentage of those who passed the 2011-2012 mathematics test was 16 percentage points lower than the 2010-2011 passing rate. 

Kavits said that the falling math scores could be credited to the tougher math standards. 

"We asked our students for a lot more, because we're expecitng a lot more and teaching them a lot more," he said. "The lower scores are expected."

The math tests now require more thought from the students, he continued. "That made the tests more challenging." 

"This is the beginning of a new baseline," he added. "We're going to continue to see our children grow and improve; they're going to be better prepared for dealing with our global economy."

In addition to the lowered passing rate overall, the gap between the passing rates of white students and minority, disabled, and disadvantaged students has only gotten larger. 

"We are committed to closing that gap," Kavits said. "I believe we're making progress. That is very, very important to us." 

Eighty percent of white students in Prince William County passed the math test, compared to 44 percent of students with disabilities, 60 percent of black students, 62 percent of Hispanic students, and 59 percent of the economically disadvantaged students.

In the 2011-2012 year, the gap between the percentage of disabled students who passed the mathematics exam and the percentage of white students who passed the mathematics exam was 36 percent. The gap between black and white student passing rates was 20 percentage points; the gap between Hispanic and white students was 18 percentage points and the gab between economically disadvantaged students and white students was 21 percentage points. 

Statewide, the gaps between these groups were 35 percentage points, 23 percentage points, 14 percentage points, and 21 percentage points, respectively.

"What we're looking for, and we really won't rest until it happens, is for everyone in every group to become proficient," Kavits said. "There is a gap and that tells us that we still have work to do. We are making strides and we are committed to achieving that goal." 

Kavits said the school district was targeting the achievement gap through the Teacher Incentive Performance Award (TIPA) program.

"These are school-focused efforts," he said. "In the schools that have more than 50 percent of students on free or reduced-price lunches, which are of course an indicator of need, we're looking at those schools and we're looking at the progress they've made over the year. We're rewarding the schools that make the most progress. We're not just looking at test scores." 

Kavits said PWCS looked at "upwards of 15 to 20" criteria in determining which schools had made the most progress, including test scores, parent satisfaction, and absenteeism. 

"Through a grant program, there will actually be cash incentives given to all the teaching and administrative faculty, based on this entire suite of criteria," he said.

The achievement gaps in other subject areas are in line with previous years.

  • The gap this year between Prince William County black and white student test passing rates was 10, 7 and 10 percentage points, compared with 10, 7 and 11 percentage points for the 2010-2011 school year, on English reading, English writing, and science exams. 
  • Between Hispanic and white students, the gap was 12, 7 and 11 percentage points, compared with 12, 8 and 11 last year in these subject areas.

In June, the federal government approved a waiver for Virginia, along with four other states, that allows the state to put forth its plan to cut the achievement gap by 50 percent overall and within each student subgroup within six years. The waiver exempts Virginia systems from No Child Left Behind requirement to close the gap among all students by 2014. 

Patch editor Erica Hendry contributed to this report.

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