RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — On Thursday, the Virginia Department of Education released the results of Virginia’s 2020-2021 Standards of Learning (SOL) tests taken by students at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

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The testing was canceled at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, so the 2021 SOL tests were the first state assessments administered in two years.

Data shows that the state-wide pass rate fell for each of the three sections of the test between the 2019 test to the 2021 test. The math pass rate fell by 28% to 54%, the science pass rate fell by 22% to 59% and the reading pass rate fell by 9% to 69%.

School officials say that drop was due to disruptions to instruction caused by the pandemic, decreased participation in state assessment programs, pandemic-related declines in enrollment, fewer retakes, and more flexible “opt-out” provisions.

“What matters now is where we go from here, and we will use the data from the SOL’s to identify the unique needs of every learner as our schools resume in-person instruction for all students,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said.

Students were required to take the tests in a school building, however, participation for the three sections only averaged around 78%, which is significantly lower than the usual 99%.

“Virginia’s 2020-2021 SOL test scores tell us what we already knew—students need to be in the classroom without disruption to learn effectively,” Lane said.

In addition, the data highlights the differences between different students groups. Pass rates were much lower for economically disadvantaged students, English learners, and those with disabilities.

“While the impact of the pandemic is clear, the SOL data from last year also highlights inequities between student groups,” Lane said. “VDOE remains resolute in its commitment to supporting educators to close these achievement gaps and help all students succeed in the classroom. Virginia is fortunate to have world class teachers and school leaders that continue to demonstrate their ability to successfully navigate these ongoing challenges and help every student thrive.”

State officials plan to use the 2020-2021 SOL data to help inform initiatives and policies moving forward.

Moving forward, officials say their focus is on acceleration, not remediation. That will allow for educators to maintain student’s trajectory by combining grade-level content with information that students may have missed last school year.

Those efforts are supported by state and federal funding, including more than $62.7 million in $62.7 million in Virginia LEARNS Education Recovery grants, $147 million from the federal American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, $21 million for evidence-based afterschool programs, and $21 million for evidence-based summer learning.

Officials say the accreditation ratings for the 2021-2022 school year will not be calculated. All Virginia schools will receive an “accreditation waived” for the 2020-2021 school year.

In response to the release of score data, the Virginia School Boards Association Task Force on Students and Schools in Challenging Environments sent out a statement:

The results of Virginia’s 2020-2021 Standards of Learning tests affirm for many the ramifications of significant shifts the COVID-19 pandemic era has had on teaching and learning and student outcomes. Highlighted in Virginia and across the nation are the student outcomes that demonstrate “impacts across all student groups, especially African American students, Hispanic students, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and English learners.” The VSBA award-winning Task Force on Students and Schools in Challenging Environments believes it is critically important to remember that significant disparities in student outcomes existed prior to the onslaught of COVID-19.

During a 2019 presentation at the VSBA Conference on Education, the Task Force highlighted data from the Virginia Department of Education that showed only one school division in Virginia achieved above the benchmark Math pass rates for students with disabilities. In contrast, every school division except one achieved passing rates for white students in math. Prior to the pandemic, less than half of all school division’s achieved pass rates for African American students in math.

For many, the pandemic era 2020-21 SOL tests results are described as “unprecedented.” For far too many students and schools in challenging environments, COVID-19 worsened structural inequities that have long produced a pandemic of unfinished learning. We call on school boards, superintendents, legislators, the Virginia Department of Education, and the Virginia Board of Education to join us in refusing to allow national trends of the pandemic’s impact to continue the long-standing structural inequities that normalize the gross disparities in student outcomes. Pre-pandemic, equity was being described as providing students what they need and when they need it. Let us collectively prioritize equity in action and accelerate student outcomes by erasing the structures of inequity we have created and, far too often, tolerated. Let us start by placing the data of Students and Schools in Challenging Environments at the top of each of our agendas — figuratively and literally — and commit our time and energy to giving what these students and schools need, when they need it, no excuses dedicated to the areas of:

  • Student Learning
  • Leadership and Teacher Quality
  • Funding & Resources (Including Infrastructure)
  • Family, Parent, and Community Engagement & Outreach
  • Specialized Training

We are your partners and remain committed to providing leadership, advocacy, and support dedicated to our charge as a task force. #OurStudentsMatter”