How SOLs and AYP Work
Contributed by Guest Poster DB
SOL scores and AYP pass rates were made public at the end of August, and there have been many articles in various newspapers about which schools in our area made, or did not make AYP. AYP, or Annual Yearly Progress is how the federal government measures a school’s performance of the No Child Left Behind standards.
Understandably, AYP causes some confusion among those who do not work in the school system. This is how it works. Each year, students in certain grades take the Virginia SOL tests which are designed to measure how the students are progressing in the areas of English (Reading), Math, Writing, Social Studies, and Science. The state of Virginia looks at how the students perform on all of the tests. For AYP purposes, the federal government looks at ONLY the Math and English scores. The state of Virginia looks at the total pass rate for each test at each grade level. When it comes to AYP, the federal government does NOT look at the total pass rate for all students, but breaks the test scores into categories, and looks at the pass rate in EACH category.
If a school has students that fail in certain categories, the school does not meet AYP. The student population of every school is broken down into the following AYP categories: black, Hispanic, white, students with disabilities (i.e. an LD student with an IEP), disadvantaged students (those who receive free or reduced lunch), and LEP students (those considered to be ESOL). It is possible for a student to represent more than one category. A white student who receives free lunch will have his/her test scores counted in two categories: white and disadvantaged. A black student with an IEP who receives reduced lunch will have his/her scores counted in three categories: black, students with disabilities, and disadvantaged. So it is possible for schools to have students that pass or fail in more than one category.
Here is an example of one Manassas City elementary school’s test rates. The school is Baldwin. It is a K-4, Title I school which means that a high percentage of its students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and it has a medium- sized ESOL population. The overall pass rate for the English SOL was 77%; the pass rate for Math was 84%. Not too bad when you look at the total pass rates. In order to make AYP, a school must have a pass rate of 75% in Math and 77% in English. Looking at the overall pass rate, one would think that Baldwin made the cut. But once the scores were examined in the AYP categories, Baldwin did not make AYP because they did not achieve the 75% and 77% pass rate in each and every category:
Pass rates by category in English: black 66%, Hispanic 74%, white 91%, students with disabilities 68%, disadvantaged students 66%, and LEP students 68%.
Pass rates by category in Math: black 69%, Hispanic 81%, white 96%, students with disabilities 71%, disadvantaged students 77% and LEP students 80%.
When a school does not make AYP, the blame game often follows. It’s the fault of the ESOL students, or the teachers, or the curriculum, or the principal etc. It is important to remember that the students who take the test each year are different. Those who took the 3rd grade SOLS last year, are not the same as the students who took it the year before. It is also important to note that the SOL tests change every year. The test questions on the 07-08 SOL tests were different than the year before, and the test questions on this school year’s tests will be different as well. Another important piece of information to consider is that a school’s SOL or AYP scores do not include cohort data.
There is no data that considers those students who have attended an elementary school from K to grade three. Likewise, there is no data on students who have moved through 4 or 5 schools before even getting to third grade. There are many schools in Manassas City, Manassas Park, and Prince William County that have revolving students. Though SOLs are the same through out the state, different school jurisdictions use different curriculums, and not all of their Scope and Sequences (what you teach, and when you teach it) will match.
Does an achievement gap exist among students? Absolutely. Despite years of effort by teachers and school systems, closing the gap among white, black and Hispanic students has been difficult. As the years have gone by, the achievement gap between white and Hispanic students is decreasing, yet the black students still lag behind. The Hispanic students in many cases now out perform the black students. Raising the achievement of black students is an issue that schools have struggled with in the past, and continue to struggle with today.
[Editors note: there is indeed a formula that few understand, and when the formula is applied to all categories, a school can fail AYP in a specific category even if the pass rates in that category are higher than the pass rates in another category. This information illustrates how convoluted the entire AYP process is.]