MATT HURT: In an Independent Analysis of SOL Scores the City Shines

Editor’s Note: Now that the most-recent SOL data is available, the Advance has received several requests for a deep dive into results for Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Stafford. We contacted Matt Hurt, a leading authority on Virginia SOL scores, and asked him to parse the data and tell us what he finds.

Today we are pleased to publish his interpretation of area districts’ performance. (Full Disclosure: FXBG Advance’s Editor-in-Chief is a social studies teacher at James Monroe High School. To ensure objectivity, he had no role in Hurt’s research or writing.)

Despite the fact that there was a sense of a return to normalcy last year, SOL performance across the state remained relatively flat from 2022 to 2023.  The table below displays a modest increase in math performance, and a slight decrease in reading performance.

Table 1 Virginia SOL Outcomes All Grade Levels

The performance of local school divisions mirror the state results in that math performance improved more than reading performance.

As demonstrated in Table 2, however, Fredericksburg is a standout. Its students’ outcomes improved more than students demonstrated in either Spotsylvania or Stafford counties, and significantly more than the state average. Fredericksburg’s overall pass rate difference was nearly three times the state average.

Table 2 Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Stafford SOL Outcomes All Grade Levels

Not only did Fredericksburg realize the most improvement among these three divisions overall, but it realized greater gains or smaller declines among most subgroups in reading and math.  The lone exception was the Hispanic subgroup in math, where Stafford students realized slightly better improvement.

Table 3 Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Stafford Reading and Math SOL Outcomes by Subgroup

Another means by which to evaluate school or division performance is to conduct a comparative analysis. This often yields more relevant statistics, as relative measures of performance control for differences in assessments, cut scores, and other factors that impact overall pass rates from year to year.  The difference in pass-rate ranking within the state is a valuable measure of improvement of student outcomes from year to year.

As shown in Table 4, Fredericksburg not only realized the greatest improvement in overall pass rate among itself, Spotsylvania, and Stafford, but it also improved the most in state ranking, outperforming its two neighboring divisions rankings from 2022 to 2023. Stafford maintained the same rank over that time period, while six other divisions surpassed Spotsylvania’s performance.

Table 4 Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Stafford Overall SOL Pass Rate and State Ranking Difference from 2022 to 2023

While compared to local school divisions Fredericksburg’s improvement of student outcomes is significant, that division still has a long way to go.

Compared with the rest of the state, Fredericksburg earned the 30th best gains in overall SOL pass rates from 2022 to 2023.  However, the improvement in state ranking of overall pass rates was 50th.

For comparison, Table 5 displays the top five divisions that earned the greatest difference in overall SOL pass rates and state ranking of SOL pass rates from 2022 to 2023.

Table 5 2023 Top Five Divisions in Overall SOL Pass Rate and State Ranking Improvement

In order to provide additional perspective into the change in performance of Fredericksburg, it is helpful to review the comparisons of the ten lowest performing divisions in 2022.  The results from 2022 and 2023 demonstrate that more of these divisions earned higher pass rate gains than Fredericksburg, while this division realized roughly average gains in state ranking.

Table 6 SOL Performance Difference of the Lowest Ten Performing Divisions in 2022

Any way you slice it, Fredericksburg demonstrated the most improvement of any local school division from 2022 to 2023.

Student outcomes improved significantly overall in math, in reading, and in almost every subgroup.  Relative to the other divisions across the state that performed similarly in 2022, Fredericksburg’s improvement was average or slightly below.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and if the educators in this division can maintain the forward momentum, their students will certainly benefit.

Matt Hurt is the Director at Comprehensive Instructional Program in Wise, Virginia. Reach him at [email protected].