Fewer K-2 students in Arlington Public Schools, particularly English learners and Black and Hispanic children, are meeting literacy benchmarks this fall, according to new data.
All APS elementary schools recently completed the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) diagnostic, provided by the Commonwealth of Virginia, for kindergarteners and first- and second-graders. The statewide system uses the screener to gauge whether students are grasping the foundations of reading.
“It is evident that we’re continuing on a downward trend with some of the PALS results,” Superintendent Francisco Durán said during the School Board meeting on Thursday night. “That downward concern is a concern for us.”
Black and Hispanic students dropped off the most during remote learning, while students with disabilities continue to perform far below neurotypical children and the overall student population.
He said “one of the most alarming bits of data” is among English language learners at the lowest levels. Less than half of students at the most basic level who met benchmarks last year met them this year.
This partially contributes to the drop among Hispanic students overall, and explains why English-language learners are prioritized for returning to school, he said.
Older English-language learners, however, buck these trends, with some outperforming native English speakers, he said.
Durán said APS’s problem extends down to core instruction, and to reverse this, schools need to incorporate daily literacy activities and small group sessions.
“We must continue to tighten — whether it’s in-person, hybrid or distance learning — differentiated instruction to small groups,” he said. “Whole class instruction will not meet the needs of all students.”
More teachers are being trained in how to do this, but Durán said teachers need more resources.
“I want to be a broken record: Small group instruction that focuses specifically on development has got to be the key here as we build out foundational literacy skills,” he said.
“They’re finally talking about this,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of advocacy for it, and I’m thrilled.”
COVID-19 exacerbates a problem that has persisted for years, one she said is partially rooted in inconsistent methods of teaching literacy.
This hits close to home for Walker, whose son has dyslexia. She pays a reading therapist to teach Wilson Fundations, a program recognized for helping dyslexic children, which is used in a few APS schools but not his.
“That’s the definition of inequity right there,” she said.
Fairfax County Public Schools made national headlines last week when it revealed a significant drop in academic performance, particularly among the most vulnerable students, during remote learning. Arlington Public Schools has released other preliminary grades data, but is planning a more comprehensive grades report, to be released later this month.
Charts via Arlington Public Schools
Pass rates for standardized tests held steady or dipped slightly among Arlington students last year, though the county still boasts success rates well above state averages across all subjects.
According to test results released yesterday (Wednesday), county students exceeded state pass rates on 25 of the 29 subjects included on the Standards of Learning tests for the 2017-18 school year. Arlington Public Schools expects the results will mean all of its schools earn state accreditation for the fourth straight year.
In all, county students recorded slight dips in pass rates in four of the five broad subject areas covering the SOL tests. Reading pass rates dipped from 87 percent a year ago to 84 percent; history and social sciences declined from 88 percent to 86 percent; math went from 86 percent to 83 percent; and science moved from 86 percent to 84 percent. Writing pass rates held steady at 86 percent.
APS recorded steeper declines among English learners and economically disadvantaged students, though most rates also held steady. The reading pass rate for low-income students dipped from 70 percent to 63 percent, for instance, while it fell from 69 percent to 61 percent for English learners.
The year came with some notable successes for APS students as well. A full 100 percent of county eighth graders passed their history test, matching a feat the county last managed in the 2015-16 school year.
“These results reflect the continued dedication of our teachers and staff who focus on ensuring that the individual needs of all students and families are being met,” Superintendent Patrick Murphy wrote in a statement. “I recognize that partnerships with families and community organizations will further strengthen our efforts to ensure success for all students; a core focus of our 2018-24 Strategic Plan.”
Statewide, students also recorded slightly lower pass rates than they did a year ago. Scores in all five subject matter areas dipped from last year, though state officials note that pass rates have increased overall since the state introduced more difficult tests five years ago.
Hundreds Ticketed for Passing Stopped School Buses — Last year, 618 drivers in Arlington County received a $250 fine for illegally passing a stopped school bus. A police spokeswoman said it was “very alarming” that so many drivers were ignoring the lights and stop arm on buses. [WJLA]
Firefighter Places Fourth in Bodybuilding Competition — An Arlington County firefighter, Capt. Tiffanye Wesley, finished fourth in the 40+ figure bodybuilding competition at the 2017 World Police and Fire Games in Los Angeles. [Twitter]
Arlington Bishop’s Statement on Charlottesville — Bishop Michael Burbidge released a statement earlier this week about the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Burbidge condemned “racism, bigotry and self-proclaimed superiority,” writing: “For Christians, any form of hatred, no matter who it is against, is an offense — a sin — against the Body of Christ. Each person is created by God and bestowed with His unyielding love.” [Catholic Diocese of Arlington]
Hate Groups in Arlington — The Southern Poverty Law Center lists three hate groups as being headquartered or having a presence in Arlington, though the local connection is questionable for at least two of them. ProEnglish, an anti-immigrant group, is listed by the SPLC as having an Arlington headquarters, but it has a Washington, D.C. office address listed on its website. The National Policy Institute, headed by white nationalist Richard B. Spencer, lists an Arlington P.O. box but its headquarters is in Alexandria, according to news reports. The Center for Perpetual Diversity, a white nationalist organization that is fighting immigration in Europe and pushing for African Americans to return to Africa, is listed as having an Arlington headquarters. It has an Arlington P.O. box with a 22204 ZIP code. [Southern Poverty Law Center, Patch]
Arlington Near Top of Va. SOL Results — “Pass rates for Arlington Public Schools students on Standards of Learning tests taken last spring were up in 11 cases, down in 12 and unchanged in six from a year before, according to new state data. The county school system met or exceeded statewide passing rates in all but one of 29 exams, and exceeded the statewide rate by 5 points or more on 17 of the assessments.” [InsideNova, WTOP]
A letter to parents from Wakefield principal Chris Willmore said that on May 30 and 31, students had to move examination rooms after two-and-a-half hours of taking a test that does not have a time limit.
But, Willmore said, some students began talking while moving to the new testing area. Willmore said staff immediately reported what happened to the Virginia Department of Education, but a VDOE spokesman challenged that assertion and said it was reported after regular business hours on June 8. VDOE decided earlier this week that students had to re-sit.
Those re-sits took place yesterday and today. An Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman said around 280 students were affected.
Willmore’s full letter is below.
Dear Wakefield Families:
I am writing to let you know about an irregularity that we experienced during Standards of Learning (SOL) testing a week ago that affects your student. As you may know, some SOL tests have no time limits which means students may take as long as they need to complete the test. During SOL testing on May 30 and 31, some students needed more than the two and a half hours that had been scheduled in the rooms where they were taking tests. Although the state allows schools to move students to another location when this occurs, we experienced some talking among students while they were moving. Because talking is not allowed when students are regrouped, the APS staff who were serving as the Wakefield testing monitors immediately reported this “testing irregularity” to the APS Office of Planning and Evaluation staff who alerted the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) as required.
Although this was reported to VDOE a week ago, we did not learn until yesterday afternoon that the state has decided to void all of the student scores for these tests because of the irregularity. This means that your student is among the group of students who will need to retake an SOL test.
The SOL retakes will be given on Thursday and Friday this week. Students will be informed by their classroom teacher today about the retake. For those students who have a final exam during the time when they need to retake the SOL test, they will be excused from their final exam and their final grade will be calculated using the fourth marking period grades. Also, because Friday is an early release day, for those students who need more time, regular transportation will be available in the afternoon at our normal dismissal time.
Finally and most importantly, I want to sincerely apologize to all of our Wakefield students and families for this error. We have had an amazing year with great progress and achievement and I regret that we have experienced this mistake during our administration of some tests this year. Please know that we will do everything possible to support our students and help them finish the year successfully.
Chris Willmore, Principal
In a second letter sent Thursday, Willmore took full responsibility, and urged parents not to contact VDOE with their concerns, but him.
Yesterday, we learned that Wakefield parents and staff have been contacting VDOE about the need to retest some students. I need to urge you again to instead direct your concerns to me. For those I have already spoken with, I appreciate the time you have taken to share your thoughts and feelings about what has happened.
In the end, Wakefield is required to follow the procedures set in place for all schools by the state and, unfortunately, that did not happen this year. I want to assure everyone that we will implement a corrective action plan so we learn from this year’s testing difficulties and can ensure that this type of irregularity does not occur again.
An anonymous tipster said students that needed to re-take the tests had been put at a significant disadvantage, and they called on the Virginia Department of Education to let their scores stand.
“They’ve been away from the subject for two-three weeks, putting them at a distinct disadvantage,” the tipster wrote. “Someone should put pressure on the state to let the scores stand.”
The APS spokeswoman said an irregularity during a test can be defined in any number of ways, and that staff are trained to report anything that happens.
“[A] ‘testing irregularity’ is anything that happens outside the norm,” the spokeswoman said. “A student getting sick and throwing up during the test is an ‘irregularity’ and test scores are thrown out by the state for the class. Same thing if there’s a fire alarm or power outage. We have monitors in all schools during testing who must share anything that occurs with our head of testing and, then our head of testing reports that to the state.”
That’s the latest from APS, which reported today its average combined SAT score in 2016 fell 19 points, to 1,661. APS Students achieved an average combined score of 1,680 last year.
Despite the drop, however, the newest numbers still easily beat the Virginia average score of 1,535 and national average score of 1,484 in 2016. The latest average score also exceeds what APS students achieved in 2014 by eight points.
“Our students continue to have a proven track record of exceptional performance on the SAT that far exceeds their peers around the country,” Superintendent Dr. Pat Murphy said in a press release. “We are very proud of their success and their level of preparation for post-secondary opportunities.”
Year-over-year, mean APS SAT scores fell three points in reading, eight points in writing and seven points in math.
Additionally, “results for APS black and white students also exceed the peers in Virginia and the nation by large margins,” the school system noted in its release.
“I am grateful for the leadership of our principals and the support from our teachers and counselors who helped to prepare our students well to achieve these impressive results,” Murphy added. “Our congratulations go out to our students and their families for successfully completing this important step to achieving their post-secondary pursuits.”
County Considering Rideshare Subsidies — Arlington County is studying a plan that would subsidize rides on Uber and Lyft for residents who live in “more remote residential areas of the county where bus service to Metro stations is limited.” The plan, if implemented, would “replace some fixed bus service in north Arlington.” [Washington Post]
APS SOL Results — The results of the Virginia Standards of Learning tests are out. In response, Arlington Public Schools released a press release with the title “APS Continues to Make Progress in Closing the Achievement Gap.” It says: “In 2016, the APS met or exceeded the state passing rates on 28 of 29 assessments, across all grade levels and subjects. APS exceeded the state passing rates by 5 to 13 percentage points on 16 of the assessments.” [Arlington Public Schools, InsideNova, Washington Post]
APS Doesn’t Make Newsweek List — Updated at 2:05 p.m. — Newsweek is out with its annual list of the top 500 public high schools in the country, and no Arlington public school made the list. In fact, only four Virginia high schools made the list. In 2010, every APS high school was on the list. APS says it has not been submitting stats to Newsweek over the past few years. [Newsweek]
Boxing Coming to Arlington This Weekend — A nine-card boxing bout will take place at the Crystal City Hilton hotel Friday night. [Fight News]
ACPD Wreath-Laying Ceremony at ANC — Arlington County Police brass laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday. [Instagram]
Lost Dog On the Pike — A woman is trying to find her lost chihuahua, which was last seen near the intersection of Glebe Road and 9th Street S., near Columbia Pike. [Twitter]
APS reported Thursday that its average SAT score in 2015 rose 27 points, to 1,680. The average score on the ACT, another standardized test, also rose.
“I am extremely proud of these results and appreciate the team effort and close collaboration by everyone to support our students,” Superintendent Dr. Pat Murphy said in a press release. “In recent years, we have focused on academic planning through our Aspire2Excellence efforts, and it is clear that our students are stretching themselves in their academic choices as they move toward future college and career pursuits.”
Over the past five years, APS SAT scores have increased 18 points in reading, 16 points in writing and 18 points in math.
The average APS SAT test score of 1,680 well exceeded the Virginia average of 1,533 and the U.S. average of 1,490. Results for black, hispanic and white students “exceed the peers in Virginia by large margins,” APS noted.
The results stand in contrast to another major local school system, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. The average SAT score for Montgomery County students dropped 21 points in 2015, Bethesda Magazine reported.
“I applaud and recognize the commitment of our teachers and school leaders,” Murphy said of Arlington’s test results. “I appreciate the critical support that is provided by our families to ensure that all students excel and realize their full potential.”
Impede Apartments, Get a Self Storage Place — In an editorial, Falls Church’s newspaper of record is warning of “The Lesson of Cube Smart.” The lesson: when Arlington County put up roadblocks to the development of the proposed Shreve Apartments in East Falls Church, developer Mark Silverwood eventually lost patience and figured out that building a “by right” self-storage place would be easier and more lucrative. Separately, Silverwood also proposed an apartment building in Bluemont that was rejected by the community, canceling a proposed revamp of the neighborhood’s Safeway supermarket. [Falls Church News-Press]
More Orange Line Delays — There were morning rush hour delays once again on Metro’s Orange and Silver lines today. A train malfunction at the Virginia Square station prompted single tracking past the station and, once that was cleared, residual delays. [Twitter]
Arlington Man Wins $100,000 — Arlington resident Robert Thomas won $100,000 in a Virginia Lottery Cash 5 drawing last week. Thomas purchased the winning ticket at the Chanda Market at 5550 Columbia Pike. [WJLA]
APS SOL Score Rise — Arlington Public Schools is touting “impressive results” on its students’ 2015 Virginia Standards of Learning tests. Among those achieving significant test score gains were Limited English Proficient and minority students. [Arlington Public Schools]
Flickr pool photo by Alan Kotok
Memorial Bridge Repairs Starting Soon — Temporary repairs to the Arlington Memorial Bridge are expected to begin later this month. The repairs are expected to take six months and will allow the closed lanes on the bridge to reopen. [Washington Post]
Stratford School Historic Designation Meetings — The Arlington School Board held a work session last night and is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Thursday regarding a possible historic designation for the Stratford Junior High School building. The building currently houses the H-B Woodlawn secondary program, but is slated to be renovated back into a community middle school. Superintendent Patrick Murphy is recommending the School Board defer action on a historic designation until later. [Preservation Arlington, InsideNova]
Big Test Score Jump at Elementary School — Good news about Carlin Springs Elementary, which has a largely Hispanic and low-income student body and has struggled with standardized tests in the past: “Some grades… had double-digit increases in their state test passage rates after a concerted effort to prepare disadvantaged students for the exams and closely track student performance on practice tests.” [Washington Post]
Marine Corps Marathon Security — The 40th Marine Corps Marathon is two and a half months away, but local police departments are already gearing up for it. The event requires tight coordination among law enforcement agencies, including the Arlington County Police Department. [ESPN]
The average SAT score for students in Arlington Public Schools increased last year, as did participation in SAT and ACT college preparedness testing.
According to data from Arlington Public Schools and SAT and ACT’s test administrators, 77.9 percent of APS grads took at least one of the two tests this year, up from 66.9 percent five years ago. The improvement was even more dramatic among black and Hispanic students, with participation increases of 17.1 and 12.9 percent respectively.
Students with disabilities saw the biggest jump in participation: In 2009, just 30.4 percent of students with disabilities took the tests; last year, 69.9 percent took one or both tests.
Arlington students averaged a combined 1,652 points on the three SAT sections — reading, math and writing — which is a 30-point increase since 2009 and 123 points higher than the statewide average. All racial groups saw increases in their scores, but the achievement gap has not been closed: white students had an average SAT score of 1,813 in 2014, while black students’ average score was 1,373 and the score for Hispanics was 1,469.
“As we continue to focus on academic planning through our Aspire2Excellence efforts, it is rewarding to see more and more of our students stretching themselves with their academic goals and moving toward future college and career pursuits,” Superintendent Patrick Murphy said in a press release. “I applaud and recognize the commitment of our instructional staff to ensure that students are well-prepared for these important steps, and I appreciate the critical support that is provided by our families and administrators to ensure that all students excel and realize their full potential.”
Thirty percent of on-time APS graduates took the ACT test, with a composite score of 25.2 out of 36, above the state average of 22.3 and the national average of 21.