K-12 Math in Virginia

K-12 Math in Virginia

Unlike most other U.S. states, Virginia did not adopt the common core national learning standards introduced in 2010. This is because the state of Virginia had already invested millions of dollars and a lot of time developing their own standards of learning (the SOLs), that they believe to be superior to the common core state standards (CCSS). Like CCSS, the Standards of Learning (SOL) establishes the minimum expectations for what K-12 students in Virginia should know in subjects like Math, English, etc. Parents, teachers, and the common citizens of Virginia were involved in creating SOL. The Virginia Board of Education’s linkage of statewide accountability tests to SOL, which fosters school accountability for student performance and promotes higher education standards, has led to positive changes in math education in Virginia.


Prior to the implementation of the SOL standards, the tests required to graduate high school only affected the students.

This is because the teachers were not held accountable for the test results and, therefore, did not effectively educate the students on test material. At the same time, education officials set low test standards, and almost 30% of college freshmen needed remedial help in subjects like math. With SOL, they raised the bar for test-oriented education and emphasized performance-driven results. This change saw positive results as more and more students met or exceeded state achievement objectives on SOL tests and other statewide assessments. 


It is important to note that there has been controversy surrounding the creation of the SOL standards and its implementation. Some of the reasons behind these controversies include the Department of Education’s refusal to disclose information about the tests and how they create them. Furthermore, because the results of SOL test performance evaluate schools and teachers, there has been concern that teaching will focus only on SOL subject matter while neglecting other essential learning objectives. Thus, lowering the effectiveness of K-12 math in Virginia.


SOL vs Common Core Math Standards

In most cases, the SOL math standards in Virginia still align with the CCSS math standards. However, in some instances, educators consider them to be more rigorous in content and scope than the CCSS. Students graduating high school following either the CCSS or SOL standards have nearly identical mathematical content knowledge, although it is delivered through different learning progressions. For example, the CCSS includes content standards that dictate methodology, while the SOL standards do not dictate methodology.

Differences between the Math Program standards from kindergarten to Grade 8 Mathematics

  1. The SOL strands (Number and Number Sense, Computation and Estimation, Measurement, Geometry, Probability and Statistics, and Patterns, Functions, and Algebra) remain constant throughout kindergarten – grade 8. In the CCSS document, the strand (domain) titles vary based on the content focus of that particular grade level. This flexibility in the strand content facilitates connections across the mathematics topics. 
  2. The CCSS introduce some topics later and accelerate their progression faster than the SOL. The learning progressions of the SOL provide ample time for concept development and application of content skills.
  3. The SOL and CCSS utilize different organizational strands. Although the SOL strand titles are different, all concepts included mirror those of the CCSS.
  4. The timeline for the introduction of specific content in the CCSS when compared to the SOL is not an exact match. Examples are listed below.
    1. Fractions are not introduced to students in the CCSS until grade 3. The SOL introduces the concept of fractions in kindergarten.
    2. Data collection does not begin in the CCSS until grade 3. The topic of data collection begins at the kindergarten level in the SOL.
  5. The CCSS and SOL both stress the connection between algebraic thinking and operations, with Virginia math curriculum emphasizing pattern use as a foundation for multiplication, aligning with both.


NAEP Assessment Test Results

An article published in 2018, praised the 4th and 8th graders in Virginia for scoring above the national average on the 2017 NAEP mathematics assessment tests. These results prove that the SOL standards bring a positive change to the performance of math in Virginia, especially when comparing these results to other states that have adopted the common core standards.  However, between the years of 2017 and 2019, the 4th graders math performance dropped by 1 point and the 8th graders math performance dropped by 3 points. The score drops indicate that further improvements can be made to Virginia’s math program, as there are still gaps to fill. In fact, many 4th and 8th graders still tested below the proficient level in Math. Thus, reiterating that the educational standards need a lot of improvement that will take time to produce any meaningful results.


The 12th grade national NAEP scores show that between the year 2009 and 2019, there has been a drop in the performance percentage of the students from 64% to 60%. Unfortunately, this drop doesn’t reflect Virginia students’ performance but that of the entire nation. However, it still suggests room for educational improvement.


SOL Assessment Test Results

The Virginia Department of Education reported the 2020-2021 SOL assessment scores, revealing significantly lower math results compared to previous years. These tests comprise 35 to 50 questions assessing content knowledge, mathematical processes, reasoning, and critical thinking skills, with students graded on a 0-600 scale, where 400 represents the minimum acceptable proficiency score. Due to the unfortunate circumstances and the challenges faced in the pandemic, students’ Math performances dropped significantly. 


Only 54% of the students that tested mathematics in 2020-21 passed, compared to 82% in the 2018-2019 school year. Math in Virginia was one of the subjects that saw the biggest drop in performance. In 2021, only 78.7% of students took the math assessment test, with fewer retakes. The state aims to use these results to aid recovery from pandemic disruptions in education.


VDOE Considers New Math Standards

In recent news, the Virginia Math Pathways Initiative (VMPI) is actively reimagining K-12 school math programs to better prepare students for success after high school. This curriculum revamp will take into consideration the inequities among different student groups in a math classroom. SOL test results revealed score disparities among students of different backgrounds. VMPI aims to introduce new k-12 math standards in Virginia, emphasizing reasoning, communication, real-world problem-solving, and conceptual connections over basic calculations. This shift hopes to encourage, empower, and support students with their future success. However, these new math standards are still under review and will be ready for evaluation by 2023.



Overall, the learning standards of the k-12 Math in Virginia still has a lot of room for improvement. Efforts to improve educational standards in the state are ongoing, but student performance improvements require time and dedication, especially in the aftermath of pandemic disruptions. Closing learning gaps is crucial before it becomes a long-term issue. Math is an extremely important subject that helps set the pace for children’s growth both personally and academically. To see a fast and effective improvement in math academics, the right math program is needed to fill in the learning gaps. With MathProject’s advanced math tutoring program, about 90% of students report being ahead of their class and show improvements and developments in real life crucial skills. 


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Common Core: Part One Nationalized Education – heav.org

Standards Of Learning (SOL) & Testing – doe.virginia.gov

Standards Of Learning – en.wikipedia.org

Virginia Department of Education: Comparison of Virginia’s 2009 Mathematics  Standards of Learning with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics – doe.virginia.gov


Virginia Standards of Learning testing data released – wsls.com

EDITORIAL: NAEP advances validate Virginia’s SOLs – fredericksburg.com

NAEP Report Card: Mathematics – nationsreportcard.gov

VDOE Considers New Math Standards Emphasizing Problem Solving – easternshorepost.com