BERRYVILLE — The more in-person instruction they received, the better that students fared overall on standardized tests last spring, Clarke County Public Schools officials have discerned.

Older students generally performed better than younger ones, especially when learning solely outside the classroom. Director of Technology and Testing Ed Shewbridge believes that mainly was due to older ones being more mature and needing less direct supervision while learning.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the state to order classrooms closed to students in March 2020. As a result, no state Standards of Learning (SOL) exams were given that spring.

Virtual learning imposed on students continued into 2020-21. As the pandemic eased, some continued to learn solely online, while others pursued a mix of in-person and internet learning, as classrooms gradually reopened for up to four days a week.

Classrooms have been open five days a week since the current school year began on Aug. 31.

SOL results from last spring show the school division had overall pass rates of 69% in English/reading (down from 72% in the 2018-19 school year, the previous time that exams were given), 52% in math (down from 80%) and 62% in science (down from 82%). Student participation was 95% for English/reading, 96% for math and 97% for science.

"Scores were expected to not be as good as they normally are," Shewbridge said.

Basically, "the higher the grade level, the better that students who (entirely) learned remotely did" on their exams, he said.

Yet "the younger you are, the more hands-on instruction you need," Shewbridge said. "Older students are probably more self-motivated" to learn.

The following is information recently presented to the Clarke County School Board shows how the four individual schools fared overall with last spring's SOLs:

Clarke County High School 

• English/reading: 88%, higher than the statewide average of 69% and higher than the school's score of 85% in 2019.

• Math: 67%, higher than the statewide average of 54% but lower than the school's score of 73% in 2019.

• Science: 74%, higher than the statewide average of 59% but lower than the school's score of 84% in 2019.

Johnson-Williams Middle School 

• English/reading: 69%, equal to the statewide average of 69% and higher than the school's score of 74% in 2019.

• Math: 49%, lower than the statewide average of 54% and much lower than the school's score of 88% in 2019.

• Science: 58%, just below the statewide average of 59% but much lower than the school's score of 83% in 2019.

D.G. Cooley Elementary School

• English/reading: 60%, lower than the statewide average of 69% and the school's score of 65% in 2019.

• Math: 47%, lower than the statewide average of 54% and much lower than the school's score of 76% in 2019.

• Science: 42%, lower than the statewide average of 59% and much lower than the school's score of 77% in 2019.

Boyce Elementary School 

• English/reading: 64%, below than the statewide average of 69% and slightly below the school's score of 66% in 2019.

• Math: 45%, lower than the statewide average of 54% and much lower than the school's score of 76% in 2019.

• Science: 62%, slightly higher than the statewide average of 59% but lower than the school's score of 76% in 2019.

State averages in 2019 were 78% for English/reading, 82% for math and 81% for science.

Division superintendent Chuck Bishop said "the data is what it is."

"These numbers are hard to look at," said school board Chairwoman Monica Singh-Smith. "But it was a tough year," she admitted.

Expecting numbers to generally be lower, Shewbridge indicated during an interview he is OK with the scores, considering the circumstances.

"They were a little better than what I expected in reading at the higher grade levels," he said. "They were a tiny bit higher in everything else."

Math scores overall took "the biggest hit," he pointed out.

When solving math problems, Shewbridge explained, "there are very discreet steps and skills you have to learn before you move on" to harder, more complex problems.

Reading skills evolve, too. Still, students don't need someone standing over their shoulders, so to speak, quite as much to help them acquire the skills. For example, Shewbridge said, if they come across a word they don't understand, they can look it up in a dictionary.

With math problems, however, "it's much more effective to have teachers there" to help them overcome stumbling blocks, he said.

Here's a breakdown of each school's SOL pass rates for students who spend all of the past school year learning online versus those who returned to the classroom:

• CCHS: English/reading — virtual 90%, in-person 86%; math — virtual 57%, in-person 70%; science — virtual 73%, in-person 72%.

• J-WMS: English/reading — virtual 65%, in-person 65%; math — virtual 37%, in-person 50%; science — virtual 54%, in-person 56%.

• Cooley: English/reading — virtual 56%, in-person 57%; math — virtual 39%, in-person 47%; science — virtual 31%, in-person 43%.

• Boyce: English/reading — virtual 57%, in-person 65%; math — virtual 25%, in-person 49%; science — virtual 46%, in-person 71%.

The amount of time that students actually spent in school during the past year could have affected how well they did on their exams, according to Shewbridge.

He said those who learned entirely online, and then had to visit their schools to take their exams, might have felt more nervous because they were in unfamiliar surroundings, having not been there in months. In contrast, those who had spent time in their school in weeks leading up to the tests may have felt more comfortable.

Some students are better able to learn online at home than others, and that affects how well they do on exams, Shewbridge mentioned. For instance, those who have fewer distractions — such as from parents and siblings walking around them or making noise — can focus more intently on their studies.

— Contact Mickey Powell at mpowell@winchesterstar.com

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