By Stefanie Jackson – The Northampton school board on Sept. 9 was shown a comparison of English and math Standards of Learning (SOL) test results from 2019 and 2021 demonstrating that the COVID-19 pandemic had a far greater negative impact on student performance in math than reading.
Superintendent Eddie Lawrence told the school board to take the 2021 SOL test results “with a grain of salt.”
Last school year many students were virtual learners and never benefited from face-to-face instruction, others attended class in person only two days a week, and many parents chose the option of exempting their children from SOL testing.
Associate Superintendent Jaime Cole noted that English scores were “pretty solid” from 2019 to 2021, with exceptions in some student subgroups, particularly Hispanic students and English learners.
For example, at least 50% of Kiptopeke Elementary students in those groups passed the English SOLs in 2019, but no more than 35% passed them in 2021.
At Occohannock Elementary, roughly 70% of Hispanic students and English learners passed the English SOLs in 2019 compared to about 60% in 2021.
Lawrence said that the Hispanic population appeared to be one of the first groups to be “hard hit by COVID,” which meant many Hispanic students missed a lot of school.
Cole noted that the decline in math scores was consistent at both elementary schools, indicating a “curriculum issue,” not a teacher or student issue.
Kiptopeke’s overall English SOL pass rate was 55% in 2019 and 51% in 2021. Occohannock’s overall English SOL pass rate was 71% in 2019 and 59% in 2021.
At Kiptopeke, 60% of all students passed the math SOLs in 2019, but only 29% passed them in 2021. Similarly, 69% of all Occohannock students passed the math SOLs in 2019, but that number plummeted to 32% in 2021.
The middle school and high school’s SOL test results followed the same trends.
About 65% of all Northampton Middle School students passed the English SOLs in both 2019 and 2021. More than 60% passed the math SOLs in 2019, but only 38% passed them in 2021.
At Northampton High School, 80% of students passed the English SOLs in 2019, with a slight drop to 75% in 2021. But there was a dramatic drop in the math SOL pass rate, from 92% in 2019 to 49% in 2021.
Cole speculated that one reason students’ overall performance suffered less in English than math is that building math skills is a cumulative process but “once you know how to read, you can apply the same skills” at any grade level.
The SOL test results weren’t all bad news. Northampton Middle School students with disabilities raised their English SOL pass rate from 22% in 2019 to 41% in 2021, almost double. Kiptopeke students with disabilities improved in English with a pass rate of 28% in 2019 and 31% in 2021.
Northampton Middle School male students improved slightly in English, from 58% passing in 2019 to 60% in 2021.
Lawrence warned school board members that SOL test scores may not have yet “bottomed out.”
About 40% of students did not take the SOL tests last year and their subject performance is unknown.
Additionally, students lost six weeks of instruction in 2020, compounded by more learning loss over the summer and last school year when opportunities for face-to-face instruction were few.
Now students are missing many of the “building blocks” they need to learn in the next grade, Lawrence said.
Cole recommended that in the future Northampton’s best teachers should be placed in kindergarten through third grade, not the grades in which students take the SOL tests.
She suggested the school division’s strategy should be for the strongest teachers to lay the foundations in the lower grades for SOL testing success in the higher grades.