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.
Arlington County will participate in what is being billed as the country’s first live multi-jurisdictional wireless emergency alert system test tomorrow (April 5) from 10-11 a.m.
Residents in participating jurisdictions will receive an alert on their cell phone “or other mobile devices,” according to a county press release. At least 20 jurisdictions, including D.C., College Park, Md., and Manassas, Va., are scheduled to simultaneously send out the test message.
The text, accompanied by a loud noise, will reportedly read as follows: “A test of the Arlington County Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action required.”
A back-up test date is scheduled for Monday (April 9) for the same time “if a real-world event impacts the [wireless emergency alert system] test on Thursday.”
The system is designed to send targeted emergency information to those in a specific area to a person’s mobile phone.
As the technology relies on carrier towers to relay messages within a “geo-targeted map,” those close to jurisdictions that are conducting the test may receive a message as well.
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.”
A senior at Washington-Lee High School will have to retake the SATs after the College Board — the company that administers the college entrance exam — reportedly canceled his score under circumstances his mother is describing as “deeply frustrating.”
Gabriel Crittenden-Toth took the test last month, had finished it and given it to the proctor at W-L when he “instinctively reached for his phone in his pocket,” which was turned off, Melissa Crittenden, Gabriel’s mother, wrote in an email. Despite the fact that the phone was off and his test was over, the proctor reported the incident to the College Board, she said.
Gabriel was allowed to leave and was informed by the counselor that this was just a formality and that his test scores wouldn’t be affected […] Today we discovered that because the report was filed and it involved a cell phone, his scores were invalidated. I called the College Board to appeal the decision. The fact that my son may potentially be denied the opportunity to apply for early decision college applications, because he instinctively reached for his phone at the wrong time and is being penalized for that by the College Board, is deeply frustrating. They didn’t investigate the circumstances of the ‘irregularity’ and instead choose to simply cancel his scores and jeopardize his college application process.
In subsequent emails, Crittenden said the College Board employee handling her son’s case told her to “get over it,” said “it’s really not that big of a deal,” and “We aren’t interested in talking to anyone. We made our decision. What makes him think he can bring a phone in when it says right on the ticket for him to leave his phone home!”
Retaking the exam costs $52.50, but more important is the $2,500 test prep course Gabriel took, which will be months in the past by the time he can retake the exam. Crittenden said the counselor at W-L was “deeply upset” by the College Board’s decision, but since the test had already been completed and collected, “it would have been sufficient to ask the boys to put their phones away.”
“In many ways I do feel like that was an an abuse of authority while I do understand they thought they were simply doing their jobs,” she said. “Please alert other parents and teens so that they can avoid this unnecessary situation. “
Requests for comment from College Board have not been returned.
Image via College Board
Graham Holdings Coming to Rosslyn — Graham Holdings, the firm once known as the Washington Post Company, is moving to Rosslyn. Now without the namesake newspaper, Graham Holdings includes education firm Kaplan, a cable television business, Slate.com, Foreign Policy magazine, and social marketing firm SocialCode. The company is moving to a 34,000 square foot space in Arlington Tower, at 1300 17th Street N. The move will help Rosslyn — home to WJLA, NewsChannel 8, Politico and the Washington Business Journal — brand itself as an emerging “media hub.” [Washington Post]
Sickles Enters Congressional Race — Del. Mark Sickles, who represents Fairfax County in the Virginia House of Delegates, is now the fifth Democrat to enter the race to replace Rep. Jim Moran (D) in Congress. [Roll Call]
TJ Prospects May Get Testing Do-Over — Students from Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties who took the entrance exam for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a magnet school, may get a do-over. Technical difficulties prevented some students from saving the essay portion of the computer exam. [Reston Now]
Arlington Group Helps Undocumented Students — The Dream Project, an Arlington-based organization, is helping undocumented students apply and pay for college. The group was co-founded four years ago by Arlington School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez. [Washington Post]
Pike Road Closures Tonight — VDOT will be removing an overhead sign across Columbia Pike at S. Queen Street tonight. Drivers should expect road closures of “up to 20 minutes at a time,” according to Arlington County. [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by J. Sonder
Ft. Myer Alarm System Test Today — In conjunction with Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Operations, the Department of State will test an alarm system on Summerall Field on the Fort Myer portion of the joint base at 2:30 p.m. today. Residents near the area can expect to hear high noise levels. For more information call 703-696-0573.
September Start Date for Ashlawn Addition Construction — A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for 5:30 p.m. on September 6 for construction on the addition to Ashlawn Elementary School. Construction on the three level addition is expected to take about two years. The new portion will add about 26,000 square feet to the existing 69,000 square foot school building, allowing the capacity to grow from 524 students to about 680. [Sun Gazette]
Grants for Non-profits — Arlington County is accepting grant proposals from non-profit organizations that help residents with physical and/or sensory disabilities. Projects should increase or maintain independence and community integration for residents with disabilities through empowerment focused services. The 2015-2016 Regional Grants to Disability Groups Application Packet can be found online. Grant proposals are due by September 30. [Arlington County]
Arlington tested its outdoor warning system this morning (Thursday).
The county conducts an audible test of the warning system once or twice per year, according to Arlington Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Director Jack Brown. Residents in some of Arlington’s more urban areas would have heard a beep or series of beeps during the test, he said.
Arlington’s outdoor warning system was first installed in 2007, using $400,000 in funding from the Department of Homeland Security. The system includes six warning speakers: two in Rosslyn, one in Clarendon, one in Courthouse, and two in Pentagon City. The speakers are controlled by a line-of-sight radio signal.
According to Brown, he last time the speakers were used in an actual emergency was on July 4, 2007, when a severe storm was approaching the area while thousands were heading to sites like the Iwo Jima memorial for the Fourth of July fireworks display.
In addition to beeps or a siren, the speakers can broadcast a pre-recorded voice message. It’s the same type of system that’s used on military bases like Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Brown said. While Fort Myer’s speakers play Taps at night and perform other non-emergency functions, however, the county’s system is only meant to be activated for true emergencies, like severe weather events, terrorist attacks, or other incidents.
Brown acknowledged that the system is only in earshot of those who are in some of the county’s more densely-populated areas, but said that it’s only one piece in a multi-platform emergency alert system that includes the county’s 1700 AM radio station, Arlington Alert emails, social media channels, a Reverse 911 system, and local media outreach.
More than 50 men and women will put their strength to the test by carrying, lifting, pressing and pulling large amounts of weight. Some of the “weights” are simply heavy objects, like huge rocks or tires.
Spectators are welcome at the event, which takes place at CrossFit South Arlington (607 S. Ball St). Competitions run from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and more information about each strength test is available online. The entrance fee is $5, and children under 12 are free.