Unlike most of the other U.S states, Virginia did not adopt the common core national learning standards that were 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. SOL was created through a process that involved the parents, teachers, and the common citizens of Virginia. Alongside the SOL, the board of education in Virginia established new standards of education that linked statewide accountability tests to SOL and held schools and students accountable for the results. This made the schools liable to the students’ performance and encouraged them to set higher standards of employment and put more responsibility on teachers to focus on the standards of learning. This motivated a positive change when it came to math 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 thus did not educate the students effectively on test material. At the same time the test levels were unacceptable as the bar was set low and almost 30% of college freshmen required remedial help in subjects such as math. With SOL the bar has been set higher for test-oriented education and 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 fact that the Department of Education refused to reveal information about the tests and how they are created. Furthermore, because schools and teachers are evaluated on the SOL test performance results, there has been concern that the focus of teaching will only take into consideration SOL subject matter and disregard other necessary learning objectives. Thus, lowering the effectiveness of K-12 math in Virginia.
SOL vs Common Core Math Standards
For the most part, the SOL standards of math in Virginia are still aligned with the CCSS math standards. However, in some instances they are considered to be more rigorous in content and scope than the CCSS. When students graduate high school through the CCSS or SOL standards, their mathematical content knowledge is almost the same, but 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.
Below are some differences between the Math Program standards from kindergarten to Grade 8 Mathematics, as seen in the “Comparison of Virginia’s 2009 Mathematics standards of learning with the common core state standards for mathematics” document that was published by the Virginia department of education.
- 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.
- The CCSS introduce some topics later and accelerate their progression faster than the SOL. For instance, fraction content is not introduced in the CCSS until grade 3, while the SOL begins development of fractional concepts in kindergarten. The learning progressions of the SOL provide ample time for concept development and application of content skills.
- The SOL and CCSS utilize different organizational strands. Although the SOL strand titles are different, all concepts included mirror those of the CCSS.
- 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.
- Fractions are not introduced to students in the CCSS until grade 3. The SOL introduces the concept of fractions in kindergarten.
- Data collection does not begin in the CCSS until grade 3. The topic of data collection begins at the kindergarten level in the SOL.
- The CCSS view the importance of connecting algebraic thinking with operations such as working with equal groups of objects to gain foundations for multiplication. The SOL also connects algebraic thinking with operations, but math in Virginia emphasizes the use of patterning to build the basic foundations for multiplication as noted in both the curriculums.
NAEP Assessment Test Results
The NAEP mathematics assessment measures students’ knowledge and skills in mathematics and their ability to solve problems in mathematical and real-world contexts. The results for grades 4 and 8 are reported for the nation overall and for states, while the results for grade 12 are only reported for the nation.
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. These score drops tell us that the math program in Virginia could undergo further improvements as there are still gaps to be filled. 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 does not reflect the performance of the students in the state of Virginia, but the Nation as a whole. We can still deduce from this drop in performance that the educational standards are still lacking and have room for improvement.
SOL Assessment Test Results
The SOL Mathematics tests are made up of 35 to 50 questions that measure content knowledge, mathematical processes, reasoning, and critical thinking skills. Students are graded on a scale of 0-600 with 400 being the minimum score of acceptable proficiency. The Virginia department of education reported the 2020-2021 SOL assessment scores, and the math results were devastatingly lower compared to previous years. 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. Moreover, while 99% of students usually took the assessment tests only 78.7% of students took the math assessment test in 2021 and a smaller number of students retook the math assessment test compared to previous years. The state plans to use the SOL results of 2021 to help the schools and students recover from the disruptions caused by the pandemic on the standards of learning. Locally the results will be used by teachers and schools to pinpoint where the students are struggling and where they are excelling to be able to better support them with their academic needs.
VDOE Considers New Math Standards
In recent news, the Virginia Math Pathways Initiative (VMPI) is determining how K-12 school math programs can be reimagined 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. This is because the SOL test results showed lower scores for students of Hispanic and black backgrounds, compared to Asian and White students. VMPI is proposing new k-12 math standards for the math programs in Virginia, that will shift the focus from basic calculations to math that requires reasoning, communication, real world problem solving and conceptual connections. 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 Math in Virginia still has a lot of room for improvement. Although the state is continuously working on its educational standards, the student’s performance requires a lot of time and effort to show any positive change. Moreover, with the pandemic causing a major disruption in the students learning, it is important to eliminate any learning gaps before it’s too late. 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 Math Project’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
SOL TEST SCORING & PERFORMANCE REPORTS – 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