Falls Church City Public Schools earned recognition from the Virginia Department of Education this week for being one of only 22 school divisions in Virginia, out of 156 total, to earn full accreditation for the coming year.
The Falls Church City school system qualified with the highest or among the highest passing rates in Virginia on all of the Standards of Learning tests. It is the only school division in the state with passing rates of 90 percent or higher in reading and writing.
“Our teachers are leaders in the state of Virginia, and their dedication to our children is extraordinary,” Falls Church City Public Schools superintendent Dr. Toni Jones explained in a press release.
According to the Department of Education, at least 75 percent of students must pass reading and writing SOL tests and at least 70 percent must pass state assessments in mathematics, science and history for a division to earn full accreditation. High schools must also meet a benchmark for graduation and completion.
Falls Church City schools ranked first in reading and writing passing rates with 90.59 and 91.22 percent of students passing those test, respectively. F.C. City Schools were the only school division in the state with passing rates of 90 percent or higher in those categories.
Falls Church also had the second highest rank in history (93.43 percent) and mathematics (89.54 percent) and the third highest rank in science (90.71 percent).
Despite these achievements, SOL passing rates, with a few exceptions, have been trending downward in the past few years following Department of Education changes to the mathematics test for the 2011-2012 school year and changes to the science, reading and writing tests the following year, making them more rigorous.
“I commend our staff and students for embracing the challenge of these rigorous exams. The past two years have required some adjustments as Virginia moves away from traditional multiple choice testing,” Dr. Jones said in a press release from the schools.
“The technology enhanced items on the exams have meant new skills must be incorporated that far exceed checking a multiple choice box. Students use technology now to drag, drop, and write online for these exams. They must apply critical thinking skills to solve complex problems with more than one answer.”
For the 2011-2012 school year, Falls Church City schools’ passing rate for the reading assessments was 95.59 percent, which dropped to 90.89 percent for the 2012-2013 school year and dipped slightly to 90.59 percent for the 2013-2014 school year.
The passing rate for mathematics during the 2010-2011 school year was 92.99 percent, which dropped to 87.96 percent the following year and 87.28 percent the year after that. The passing rates for mathematics rose during the 2013-2014 school year with 89.54 percent of students passing the SOL mathematics assessments.
The passing rates for the writing assessments dropped nearly eight points from the 2011-2012 school year to the 2012-2013 school year, but bounced back up to 91.22 percent for the 2013-2014 school year. After rising for three consecutive school years, F.C.’s passing rates for the science assessments have dropped nearly seven percentage points since the 2011-2012 school year.
Passing rates for history and social science have been around 94 percent for the past four school years.
At Tuesday’s School Board work session, Jeanne Scarbridge, the system’s Assistant Director of Technology, Learning and Achievement, noted that the added difficulty of the tests is reflected in only 22 this year, compared to 36 last year, of school divisions in the state who achieved full accreditation. “It is a very, very rigorous test now,” she stated.
She noted one impact of the high bar has been to frustrate teachers in lower-performing divisions, driving them to where they may experience better success, such as in the F.C. system.
SOL scores averaged in the 90s for all City schools, and while the division had the top scores in the state for reading and writing, it was Number 2 in the state in math, and one of only three divisions above 90 in science.
Science performance for “limited English proficiency” students was down, but Scarbridge said that was weighted by 30 LEP students who came in new to the Falls Church system last year, and that 99 percent of those students have “shown growth” since then.