Despite accreditation, S.P. Morton’s reading SOL scores show decline

Published 2:39 pm Saturday, October 27, 2018

Despite S.P. Morton Elementary’s new accredited status, data provided by the Virginia Department of Education shows a decline in some of the school’s Standards of Learning test scores during the 2017-2018 school year.

According to the VDOE’s new school quality website,, approximately 45 percent of all students enrolled at S.P. Morton during the 2017-2018 school year failed the reading SOL. This amounts to a 6-percent increase over S.P. Morton’s 39-percent failure rate during the two previous school years.

According to Charles Pyle, the VDOE’s director of communications, under the state’s new accreditation standards, which debuted earlier this year, a public school that tests below VDOE standards in Virginia is denied accreditation only if it fails to implement a state-required corrective action plan. Schools are now designated as either “accredited” or “accredited with conditions” based on three indicators: overall SOL scores, progress made in closing achievement gaps between various student demographics, and chronic absenteeism.

High schools have two additional indicators: drop out rate and graduation rate. High schools will also be evaluated for college, career and civic readiness beginning during the 2021-2022 school year.

Schools are classified into one of three levels based on each indicator. Level one is defined as meeting or exceeding the state standard or making sufficient improvement. Level two is defined as being near the state standard or making sufficient improvement. Level three is defined as being below the state standard. Schools with all indicators at level one or two, which now include S.P. Morton, are rated as “accredited” under the VDOE’s new evaluation system, and those with one or more indicators at level three are rated as “accredited with conditions.” S.P. Morton is currently rated at level two for reading SOL scores, achievement gaps and chronic absenteeism, and level one for math and science SOL scores.

Under the VDOE’s old system, if 10 students took an SOL and six passed, the pass rate would have been 60 percent. Under the VDOE’s new system, if 10 students take an SOL, six pass, two show growth, and one was an English as a second language student but showed sufficient growth on the WIDA Access language proficiency test, the overall pass rate as measured for accreditation purposes would be recorded as 90 percent.

Growth is measured by classifying students who test below the passing score of 400 on an SOL into one of four performance levels: below basic low, below basic high, basic low and basic high. For example, a third grader who scores between zero and 280 on the reading SOL would be classified as below basic low, but if that same student scored between 278 and 302 in fourth grade, he or she would be reclassified as below basic high and be recorded for accreditation purposes as having passed due to showing sufficient growth.

Due to the overlap in ranges of scores, there is also a slight possibility for a student to score worse on the reading SOL than he or she did during the previous school year, but still be recorded as a pass for having shown growth. This possibility occurs if a third grader were to score 280 on the reading SOL and be classified as below basic low, and then score 278 in fourth grade, but still be reclassified as below basic high. It also occurs if a fourth grader scores 277 (below basic low) and then in fifth grade scores 271 (below basic high.) Kelvin Edwards Sr., deputy superintendent and spokesman for Franklin City Public Schools, said that S.P. Morton did not see any of this type of overlapping, and that the students who were classified as having shown growth did, in fact, make progress.

Pyle confirmed that the new pass rate plus growth formula is only used for accreditation purposes, and that the breakdown of passing versus failing scores by student demographic reported on still defines passing an SOL as having a score of at least 400.

The total number of S.P. Morton students who failed the math SOL in 2017-2018, according to, also increased, but only by 1 percent. However, the school’s science SOL failure rate decreased by 2 percent.

The number of students with disabilities who failed the math SOL, while still earning S.P. Morton a level three achievement gap rating, was down 9 percent compared to 2016-2017. The number of females who failed the math SOL was down 2 percent, though the fail rate for males rose by 6 percent.

The number of females who failed the science SOL was also down 7 percent. The failure rate for students from economically disadvantaged households was up 4 percent on the math SOL but down 5 percent on the science SOL.

“Now, with the new accreditation standards, we’re getting credit for growing students,” Edwards said. “Just look at our data from four years ago… We were not accredited in any subject but history. We can’t just look at the raw data, we have to look at how we’re growing students academically. We truly feel we are meeting the mark because look from whence we came.”

Edwards then showed a chart comparing S.P. Morton’s SOL English data since the school’s low point during the 2013-2014 school year, when only 39 percent of students passed. Each school year since then has resulted in a pass rate of above 60 percent, except for 2017-2018, during which the pass rate dropped to 55 percent.

“Of course, we still want our students to hit that specific target by the VDOE, but allowing them to understand that they can make strides along the way and still be successful,” said Felicia Burkhalter, Franklin City Public Schools’ director of instruction.

Edwards added that despite the decline in reading scores, Franklin City Public Schools was one of only 52 percent of school divisions allowed to exit their VDOE memorandums of understanding after gaining accreditation under the new system. The MOU had been in place since 2010.

As to what was working to bring the failure rate for students with disabilities down by 9 percent, Edwards cited several efforts, including co-teaching, which is two teachers working together to teach one or more students, and a 100-percent push-in model, which he said meant that even if special education students were separated from their non-special education peers for academics, they would rejoin them for lunch and other subjects. He added that central office staff routinely meets with principals and the coordinator of special education, and that starting this month, central office staff will also be doing instructional walkthroughs of schools.

“While we made gains, we know we still have work to do,” Edwards said.