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Testing in Virginia: An Overview

A GreatSchools guide to standardized tests

By GreatSchools Staff

Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. Virginia uses the Standards of Learning (SOL) assessment program to test students in grades 3 through 8. High school students take the SOL End-of-Course tests in various subjects and must pass at least six exams to graduate. The SOL tests are standards-based, which means they measure specific skills defined for each grade by the state of Virginia.

Virginia uses Accreditation Ratings to show how well schools are performing against the state standards.

Although test results can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom, they don't tell you everything about the quality of a school. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final determination.

The information provided on GreatSchools profiles for the tests is from the 2009-2010 school year. The ratings are for the 2009-2010 school year.

Tests in Virginia

In 2009-2010 Virginia used the Standards of Learning (SOL) assessment program to test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8; in writing in grades 5 and 8; in science in grades in 3, 5 and 8; and in history/social science in grades 3 and 8.

High school students took SOL End-of-Course tests in reading, writing, algebra I, algebra II, geometry, biology, chemistry, earth science, world geography, Virginia and United States history, world history I and world history II. The tests given in high school are designed to address specific course content, regardless of the grade level of the student being tested.

The SOL and SOL End-of-Course exams test the skills outlined in the Standards of Learning. The standards outline what students should learn in every grade in Virginia. The exams are designed to test the grade-level skills outlined in the standards.

How are the tests scored?

SOL results show the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in each of the subject areas tested. Students are rated at one of three levels: fail, proficient and advanced. The levels of proficient and advanced are considered passing. The goal is for all students to pass the test. Learn more about the tests on the Virginia Department of Education website.

Which results are included on GreatSchools profiles?

For each subject tested, the percentage of students passing is displayed.

Why do test results matter?

Virginia test results provide an indication of whether students are making progress toward mastery of state content standards, and some schools may use test results as a means of determining promotion from one grade to the next. High school students must pass at least six SOL End-of-Course exams in order to graduate. Students who do not pass the first time are given opportunities to retake the tests.

It is important to be aware of both your child's score on the assessments and the overall score for her school. If your child scores below the standards, contact the teacher to discuss getting additional assistance, and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home.

If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you can do to help. Check with your school to find out if your child is eligible to receive federal and/or state money for tutoring or to transfer to another school. Schools that consistently do not meet the state's standards are visited by a review team and are required to go through a state-mandated improvement process that may include interventions for students who initially failed the SOL tests.

Accreditation Ratings in Virginia

Virginia uses Accreditation Ratings to show how well schools are performing against the state standards. To calculate the 2009-2010 Accreditation Ratings, the state looked at performance levels on the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) and other tests in English, history/social science, math and science administered during 2008-2009, or at overall achievement on the three most recent years of assessment results, if available. Schools are identified as Fully Accredited, Accredited with Warning, Conditionally Accredited or Accreditation Denied.

The ratings may be adjusted for schools that are successful in remediating students who initially fail English or mathematics tests. Adjustments may also be made for schools with limited English proficient students or students who are new to Virginia public schools. The state considers all of these factors when adjusting the pass rates in each subject area.

How are the ratings calculated?

High schools and middle schools receive a rating of Fully Accredited if students achieve adjusted pass rates of 70% or above in all four subject areas (English, history/social science, math and science). A combined adjusted pass rate of at least 75% on reading/language arts tests in grades 3 and 5 is required for full accreditation at the elementary school level, and for other schools with students in these grades. Additionally, elementary schools must achieve an adjusted pass rate of at least 70% in math, and in grade 5 science and history, as well as pass rates of at least 50% in grade 3 science and history.

If a school's pass rates are below those required for full accreditation, it will receive a rating of Accredited with Warning. Schools that fail to be Fully Accredited for three years in a row receive a rating of Accreditation Denied. New schools or schools that are being reconstituted receive a rating of Conditionally Accredited.

Why do the ratings matter?

A designation of Fully Accredited suggests that the overall student population at the school is meeting the state's expectations. Accreditation ratings may also reflect the success of a school in preparing students for retakes of SOL tests.

Schools that are Accredited with Warning face academic reviews and are required to create and implement school improvement plans. In addition, schools that receive this rating in reading/language arts and/or mathematics must adopt curriculum proven by research to be effective in raising student achievement levels in these subjects.

Schools that are denied accreditation face certain corrective actions outlined by the state Board of Education and agreed to by the local school board. Corrective actions may include, but are not limited to, restructuring a school's governance, instructional programs, staff or student population.

What if my child attends a school that is not Fully Accredited?

If your child attends a school that is not rated Fully Accredited, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you can do to help. Because these schools are likely to face additional consequences under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, your child may be eligible to receive federal and/or state money for tutoring or to transfer to another school.

Why do some schools and districts not have Accreditation Ratings?

Schools that are new or that have a very small number of SOL results may be excluded from the ratings process. Alternative schools with approved or pending alternative accreditation plans will receive a rating once the Board of Education has approved the alternative plan. If your school's rating is not listed on GreatSchools, contact your principal to find out more.

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