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Schools eager to dig into data from the return of SOL testing

COVID-19 canceled Standard of Learning tests in 2020. Now, school administrators are ready to measure how virtual learning has aided learning loss.

NORFOLK, Va. — After being waived by the federal government last year, Standard of Learning (SOL) tests are returning to public schools across the commonwealth. 

Administrators said virtual learning challenges and learning loss made test result data all the more valuable. 

"I'm really just expecting to get some data, period, to be able to use that data to drive instructional practices as we go into the summer and go into the fall," said Norfolk Public Schools Chief Academic Officer, James Pohl.

Administrators are prepared for the inevitable drop in scores. 

"Oh, I think across the state, across the nation, there are definitely some learning gaps and learning loss," Pohl said.

There is already concerning data for school systems to chew on. 

Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) fall results showed the number of kindergarten and first-grade students at risk for reading failure increased by 10% over last year. 

The spike is being felt across racial and economic lines. 

Credit: VDE
Fall assessments show an increased risk in reading failure among kindergarten and first-grade students.

After the first 2020-2021 marking period, in middle schools statewide, the percentage of students failing two or more classes went up considerably compared to 2019-2020. 

More than two dozen divisions reported more than a 30% jump in that failure rate.

More than 30 divisions reported a jump (between 11% and 20%) among high school students. 

This year, Virginia schools won’t receive normal accreditation ratings from the Department of Education. Instead, the goal of the SOLs is to assess the impact of the school shutdowns. 

"We really want the focus to be using the data to help students - as opposed to evaluating teachers, evaluating principals, anything that's a part of accountability," said Charles Pyle, a VDE spokesperson. 

The testing is required to take place in person, so COVID-19 mitigation factors are a must. Those include social distancing, hand-washing, and requiring masks.

"We're implementing as many mitigation factors as possible," Pohl said.