CCPS Scores Drop in Wake of New Math Standards

Clarke County Public School students, parents and teachers got their first public look at Standards of Learning math test results last week. The test results showed a significant decline in “pass” rates for Clarke County’s kids and may have some parents and students wondering what caused the poor performance and, more importantly, what needs to be done to improve student math skills.

The CCPS SOL math results, which include a nearly 70% decline in overall pass rates for some student groups, is a reflection of the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) 2009 revision of the Commonwealth’s mathematics achievement standards. This year’s test results reflect an increased rigor of the new curriculum as well as new testing approaches.

CCPS SOL math scores released on June 10, 2012 (click to enlarge)

“Historically, new tests that measure new standards have brought significant decreases in scores,” said CCPS Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Lisa Floyd. “Students are used to using multiple choice test taking strategies – working backward, eliminating answers, educated guessing. These are important test strategies but they are not the foundation of teaching in Clarke County.”

Instead, Floyd continued, the new online versions of the math SOLs require test takers to demonstrate critical-thinking and problem-solving skills in ways that were not possible with traditional multiple-choice tests.

Technology-enhanced questions, which make up about 15% of the test, are designed to reflect classroom instruction, such as ordering information correctly, creating graphs from data, plotting points on a grid and highlighting features on a diagram. The tests also include open-ended, fill-in-the blank problems that can have multiple correct answers.

“These are not the multiple choice tests that your father took,” said CCPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy.

According to statistics Floyd released at last Monday’s Clarke County School Board meeting, the new testing approach is having a big impact on students.

“Last year, Boyce scored a 98% pass rate for 5th grade Math with 76% scoring ‘Pass – Advanced’,” Floyd told School Board members. “This year, the score fell to 29% pass rate with not a single student scoring a ‘Pass – Advanced’ at Boyce.”

Floyd said students at DG Cooley performed similarly.

“Last year students at Cooley scored an 82% pass rate for 5th grade Math with 61% scoring ‘Pass – Advanced’. This year scores fell to 45% pass rate with only 3% of students scoring ‘Pass – Advanced’” Floyd said.

The new math tests, as well as similar changes in reading and history, are part of Virginia’s response to the problem that U.S. students are falling behind their international peers in the areas of math, reading and science. The problem gained came to national prominence in 2010 when the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development administered a test known as the Program for International Student Assessment to groups of 15-year-old students in the world’s major industrial countries.

The results were startling.

The PISA test results demonstrated that students in Shanghai, China out performed every other industrialized nation in the world in the areas of math, science and reading. The same Pisa test placed US students 17th overall in reading, 23rd in science and a distant 32nd place in math.

“We have to see this as a wake-up call,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in an interview with the New York Times referring to the test results. “I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable, and we have to see them as a challenge to get better,” he added. “The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”

While the new the instructional approaches are intended to improve Virginia student math, science and reading skills, educational professionals across the state have also been bracing the public over the last two years for what many believed was the inevitable drop in test results now being seen.  Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright warned that this year’s math SOL results would become the future baseline data for measuring improvement.

“If pass rates fall,” Wright told Virginia’s General Assembly in January “it is a sign that the state is expecting more, not that students are learning less.”

According to VDOE’s testing data, the approximately 24,000 students who took geometry, Algebra I and Algebra II tests during December and January prior to the introduction of the new approach scored 27 points above that of students taking the current test.

But despite the poor overall scoring averages, VDOE is not yet ready to concede that its pass-rate goals are necessarily too high. Students in 20 Virginia schools that took the December and January tests still achieved pass rates of 80 percent or higher.

So even though success is possible, school superintendents, who are on the frontline when it comes to addressing citizen reaction to lower test scores, have been cautious to embrace the new teaching and testing approach.

“What are we doing to our students and teachers by jumping so high so quickly?” said James Merrill, chief of Virginia Beach schools, in an interview with Gannett’s

Virginia SOL math scores (click to enlarge)

In April, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents went so far as to request a “grace period” so that initial math scores would not count and allow teachers to adjust to the higher expectations.

While Clarke County school administrators and teachers agree that the new testing and instructional methods will simply take some time to get used, additional problems that contributed to the low test scores were also discussed at Monday night’s School Board.

“We’ve been asking for a textbook fund for years,” Murphy said.

Johnson Williams Middle School math instructor Dennis Sandala added that his students had been frustrated during SOL math practice sessions because VDOE had only provided fourteen examples of the computer-based technology-enhanced questions.

“You can only practice so much with so few sample problems,” Sandala lamented.

For Clarke County, Dr. Floyd says that the goal is to still try and meet VDOE’s pass-rate expectations despite initial low pass-rate performance.

“Achieving those pass-rates is still our goal,” Floyd said in response to a question from School Board member Dr. Elizabeth Leffel (Buckmarsh) about whether or not the division’s improvement goals were realistic given the poor level of student test results.

Floyd said that the change in learning standards has increased rigor at all at all grade levels as the format of the SOL assessments shifted from basic knowledge to application at all grade levels. She also said that the new instructional materials have present teachers at all grade levels with new challenges as they work to gain proficiency.

Floyd said that the division actually started its implementation of the new math standards almost two years ago when several CCPS instructors attended special VDOE-sponsored training sessions. Those instructors then returned to Clarke County to train other staff members.

Floyd said that CCPS will continue to use a range of tools to improve its math instruction including math word walls in classrooms, implementing math data walls for teacher use, professional learning opportunities, use benchmark data to adjust instructional delivery based on student needs, video feedback tools for teachers and improved accountability measures for subgroups.



  1. Just wondering? says:

    I was just wondering what other parents thought about the instruction that their child received during this school year that just ended. Fortunately, my child did an amazing job this year but his 5th grade class did not have homework one single night the entire year. I thought that this was odd and maybe my child was trying to pull a fast one on us, so I contacted his teacher who advised that she does not assign homework. It doesn’t seem like so long ago that our school system was ranked in the top 100 in the nation. If I remember correctly. Maybe it was our high school curriculum, either way, what has happened to those standards that we once had in Clarke county? Maybe it is time for Clarke county public schools to start using textbooks again

  2. The statement, “The PISA test results demonstrated that students in Shanghai, China out performed every other industrialized nation in the world in the areas of math, science and reading” is misleading. In Clarke County just about EVERY student gets tested. In China (and many other countries) they only test a select number of students, the ones who will test well. The test results are a bunch of bunk! I am also curious on how you compare reading standards in Chinese and English? The languages operate with totally different cues and structures. This is another case of using apples and oranges statistics to make Americans think/feel that their teachers and students are inferior. This is simply not true.

    Across the state SOL math scores were down and if you read more articles about the drop in test scores you’ll will find that the VDOE (Virginia Department of Education) and many administrators tend to imply that it takes teachers and students a while to “catch up” to the new test. I find it odd that they don’t include themselves in being responsible for the drop in test scores. The VDOE did a pathetic job in alerting the teachers and students about the test formatting as noted by Johnson Williams Middle School math instructor Dennis Sandala.

    Watch your education budgets carefully, I wonder if there is going to be additional money spent state-wide (and in the counties) on special math programs designed to bring math scores up and additional administrators to over see such funding? Sounds like job justifications to me.

    If your are motivated, do some research on how Finland handles their education system. Less standardize testing, fewer administrators (nationally and locally), and a better teacher to student ratios. Even principals have teach….and yes, they scored better than we did on the PISA math test.

  3. jennifer says:

    I will agree that the fact that there is no homework in a subject like math, were learning is based on drill, practice, and repetition, is not right. Knowing how little time there actually is for instruction given all of the other mandates and unfortunate distractions, math is something that requires out of school practice. That said it is time for the state to determine once and for all what they expect kids to know by given ages and stick to it instead of continually changing the goals. Unlike Science and History, Math does not change. How we teach it does not need to change. We need to stop setting our kids and our teachers up for failure.

    Also, It is hard to recruit higher level math and science teachers and keep them as they can find higher paying jobs in the private sector.

    And finally, as said above, there are many factors that go into the up and down statistics. I have commented on them before. Unfortunately the press us usually not interested in such details.

    It would be interesting to see a poll style article with samples of the SOL math questions for the various levels so the general public could see what our kids were up against and how well we would do.

  4. Another View says:

    Your taxpayer dollars at work. Getting your monies’ worth?

  5. I think it is interesting that 6th grade scores were up. I know the instruction my son received was fabulous this year. Thanks Mr. Sandala.

    When looking at the scores though, it really is hard to compare last year’s scores to the same class level. You are evaluating students who are different. It would nice to see trending data as each year’s student group progresses through the grades.

  6. NYCborn says:

    It is always going to be a battle that includes various highs and lows when we view education as some sort of competition and/or consumer product. Learning is a lifelong journey and shouldn’t be viewed as something our children are up against.

  7. A more appropriate headline for this article would have been: “CCPS Scores CONTINUE to drop in Wake of New Math Standards”.
    CCPS Math scores have been dropping consistently in both the middle and high schools since 2009, in spite of the school administration’s pointing fingers of blame towards everything except themselves, and their protestations of “remedial” Math courses supposedly being given to correct the situation.
    However, there is one happy exception to that rule. 6th Grade Math scores, to the contrary, have gone from poor to excellent in that same period, and in spite of this year’s new curriculum:
    2009 – 72
    2010 – 73
    2011 – 86
    2012 – 92
    Gosh, do you think it could be because of a really good 6th grade Math Teacher???
    As for the unfortunate and cynical comment about textbook funds made by the Superintendent, the allocation of funds of ALL operating budgets are established by the Superintendent, no one else, prior to being presented to the SB for approval.
    In 2008, the FY09 budget put into place by the interim Superintendent John Taylor, included over $140,000 in textbooks (that year, the actual amount spent was $147,836) – which number was slashed in the following budgets by the current Superintendent, as follows:
    Budget FY10 – $52,571 (actually spent $46,087)
    Budget FY11 – $50,571 (actually spent $57,782)
    Budget FY12 – $50,571
    Budget FY13 – $50,571
    (Source: School budgets on website).
    The school administration’s reason for being is to educate children. They are given 66% of this county’s operating budget every year (some $20 million for FY13), and textbooks are vital to that education. No more excuses, please.


  8. nyvabebe says:

    My daughter attended DG Cooley as a 5th grader this year, and we were stunned by the lack of homework that she had all year. SInce her move from Primary to Cooley we have seenthe amount of hoemwork go down, not up, and I feel that she is ill prepared for the workload (if it does increase) that we expect her to have in JWMS. In 4th grade my daughter changed math teachers 3 times in one year, and when I wanted to get a tutor for her they told me it wasn’t nessesary. She had teachers that really cared about her but I never really felt that they could provide her with the extra help she needed or that I requested for her. We will be going the Sylvan Learning Center route for extra support because I’m afraid that she will be left behind if we don’t.

    It was also frustrating to not have an actual textbook for her to work from that we could use to assist her with what little hoemwork she had or for review for tests….

  9. Wish there was a break down by teacher…. I personally know there a few awesome math teachers at. CCHS who got 90% or better…. Unfortunately as they say one REALLY bad Apple does spoil the whole bunch!!! Let’s remember great people don’t necessarily make great teachers.

    • an educator says:

      You are right, there are awesome teachers at Clarke County HIgh School. However, it is important to take into account the type of students that one particular teacher has in a school year: are you looking at a class of honor’s students or are you looking at an inclusion class that includes students who have a disability in mathematics. Results will be different.

  10. also congrats to the teachers for beating that horrible state average!! Seems like no one did well with these new math SOL s , maybe the state should try again!!

  11. My 2 Cents says:

    Could it be that our expectations for Math are a little too high? I mean heck, they are practically doing Algebra in 4th grade now aren’t they???? Just saying

    • Another View says:

      Absolutely! Why in the world should we expect so much from children! Learning should not be so much of a challenge. After all, not everyone can grow up to be a genius.

      We should lower public school standards so that children do not feel inferior based upon their lack of knowledge. Equality is more important than individual achievement.

  12. Perhaps we should expect what is developmentally appropriate for each child/age group.

    I mean, apparently countries that seem to focus on the genius in all of us make mistakes too, like poisoning baby formula, pet food, and toothpaste. I wonder what their math scores were when they were a child?

    • Another View says:

      TRUE! If we do not push our children, we do not have to worry about pet poisoning.

      Children should be permitted to be children. This is why the President was so wise to insist that children up to age 26 be allowed to be put on their parents’ health insurance policies. Children 26 and under need to be shielded from life’s harsh realities. Our schools’ curricula should reflect the same priorities!

  13. just the facts..PLEASE says:

    The administration MUST be held accountable! This downward trend started with the current administration and it will not end until there is a change at the top. The time for excuses is over.

    • Leroy Jenkins says:

      100% graduation rates (or dang near close to it) for the past couple of years is a downward trend? 100% pass rates (or dang near close to it) at the middle school for algebra and geometry is a downward trend? Yes, let’s throw out the admin and roll the dice again. No one wants to look at the whole picture.

  14. I often hear how far advanced children in China and India are in math and science compared to children in the USA. Is this something new? Because if this is the case, then why does the USA continue to be the apparent leader in innovation and technology compared to these two countries? I hear China is great at copying our technology but not ever really improving or inventing anything. Same goes for India. If they are producing all of these bright children academically, where are they being utilized when they become adults? Do they all eventually work for the USA? And why do most of their citizens still live in poverty? It just doesn’t make complete sense.

    • Another View says:

      Sure it does. The difference is freedom and liberty. Which is why everyone should be alarmed at the current efforts to impose further government restrictions and regulation on the American people.

      Left to our devices, the American people can do anything. Hampered by our government, we are no better than the average European socialist basket case.

    • an educator says:

      It is so important to remember that not all children are provided a free and appropriate education in China and India. If , in the United States, we looked at only the standards based scores and rate of learning of our top students, and sent the lower percentile to work in factories our statistics would look much more competitive. We don’t do that in the United States- we try to educate all children. Statistics can show whatever you want to portray.

      • Another View says:

        I am really unconcerned with where we rank compared to Red China and India. But I am concerned with the state of public education, which is failing miserably to educate children.

        The best solution would be to quit confiscating parents’ tax dollars, and permit them to send children to the school of their choice. WOW! What a novel concept; parents choosing the best education for their children! WOO HOO! CHOICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Right Winger says:

    “…where are they being utilized when they become adults?…”

    India – Help desk support.
    China – Copying US trademarks and technology. (They go to work for the military)

  16. I remembered stumbling across an article on this subject, when I grabbed a Sunday paper.
    I remembered because I was in the middle of doing a lot of math homework/practice with my son, in preparation for his Math SOL.

    I found it – here’s a link to it.
    If you read it, you’ll see that this isn’t a “Clarke County” thing – regardless of where you stand on it. You will see very similar comments to what people are stating, both in the article and in the comments from readers.

  17. The Apple says:

    Disappointing scores, for sure. However, it’s apples to oranges. Each group of students is different. One group’s weakness is another’s strength. Last year’s math SOL test was not this year’s math SOL test. Why not look at a particular group and follow their progress over a 5-year span? That would bring a clearer picture than to just say scores are dropping.

    Also, it’s true, when there’s a new test, scores drop. Don’t want to sound like I’m excusing anything, but when the state changes the test, there are very few resources available. Look at last year’s History scores across the state. Look at how many “sample” history and math questions are available for review? Seriously, check out the VDOE site sometime.

  18. Roscoe Evans says:

    1) Put professionals in charge of the schools, pay them well, and pay them more when there are significant improvements in test scores over the years. Don’t try to drive them off with nitpicking criticism. You’ve already done that once.

    2) If test scores decline several years in a row, remove those professionals, and replace them with others.

    3) Stop hectoring the current Superintendent, especially if you were involved in hiring him. He has not been here long enough to make a difference. Any professional educator will concur.

    4) Try establishing a positive learning environment for Clarke’s students. I guarantee that every reasonably bright student feels that he is living in a county that does not value education, and is unwilling to tax itself to adequately educate its students.

    5) These are schools. Academics are important. Athletics, less so. Drop interscholastic athletics at the middle school level. Increase physical exercise and activities, gymnastics, and health care classes.

    6) If you’re an adult, start acting the part, and stop making these inane, uneducated comments, about teachers and students, India and China. Read and learn, and stop insulting your fellow citizens.

    7) Work harder. Pay more taxes. Stop whining.

    8) These test scores are yesterday’s news. Move on.

    • Another View says:

      Ah, more taxes! Is that not always the Left’s answer to a problem?

      Yes, yes, yes! If only we pay more taxes, our children will be smarter!


  19. Spoken like a true sycophant Roscoe, nothing to see here…old news…move along.
    Sadly it is not “new news” that the schools have failed the students, however the degree of their failure is indeed news and you and your cohorts would do well to listen to the comments from the community.

    The pitchforks may be coming out soon….

  20. Roscoe Evans says:

    I still don’t respond to seditionists.

    I still have no cohorts.

    Irrational responses (i.e. the pitchfork nonsense) lead nowhere.

    Clarke County’s inability to handle the abc’s of education is an embarassment here and throughout Virginia. I was stunned by the situation when I moved here, and little has changed.

  21. Another View says:

    George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe–our first five (5) presidents–were all “seditionists”. I wear your accusation as a badge of honor, even if the real reason you do not respond is you have no response.