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Cumberland AMO Woes

CUMBERLAND – As expected, while all three Cumberland County Public Schools are fully accredited by the state, Cumberland Middle and Elementary Schools did not meet the benchmarks established for federal accountability.

The newly revamped SOL math test led to a significant decrease in passing students in Cumberland and around the state. Ultimately, however, it was reading test results that led to Cumberland Elementary and Middle School failing the federal accountability benchmarks.

The high school met all federal benchmarks, however, including the Federal Graduation Indicator that is also a part of the federal accountability program. Federal Graduation Indicators were on par with the state average.

The new Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) are set with the goal of reducing the failure rate in reading and mathematics by 50 percent by 2019. The AMOs also take into account achievement in specific proficiency gap groups which, according to the Virginia Department of Education, have historically “had difficulty meeting the commonwealth's achievement standards.” These proficiency gap groups were given lower AMO target passing rates for tests than the general student population. Other subgroups must meet the AMO benchmarks as well.

Schools can reach AMO targets three ways: By meeting the expected pass rate with the current year's test results, by averaging the results of the last three years to meet the targeted pass rate or by increasing their pass rate by ten percent.

Math

It was expected that math would be a problem because of the newly toughened SOL tests. And, in fact, all three schools met their AMO targets for all students by using the averages from the past three years.

The Virginia Board of Education updated mathematics standards in 2009 in order to “to ensure that Virginia public school students are prepared for the challenges of the first year of college or meaningful entry-level employment when they graduate from high school.”

This past year's new math SOLs reflected those updated standards. According to a press release from the VDOE, “Students had the most difficulty on the grade-3, grade-7 and grade-8 tests.” The state average pass rate on math SOLs dropped by 19 percent.

The division's pass rate dropped significantly more than the state average. This year's math pass rate dropped by 29 percent for the district, with 51 percent of all students in the Cumberland school district passing the SOL math tests, compared to a pass rate of 80 percent last year.

The county's greatest drop in math scores was at the elementary school, which almost halved its pass rate from 80 percent of students passing the test last year to only 43 percent this year.

Referencing the more rigorous SOL math test, School Superintendent Dr. Amy Griffin stated, “I expect to see significant increases in our math scores this spring. Staff and students now know what to expect; have attended many professional development opportunities; and are implementing much higher level math activities in the classroom.”

Reading

Although none of the schools are out of the woods when it comes to math, the middle and elementary schools failed to meet accountability targets due to the number of students who did not pass the SOL reading tests.

To meet the new AMOs, 85 percent of all students are expected to pass SOL reading tests. Only 71 percent of all elementary school students passed. The passing rate for the elementary school has dropped by eight percent over the last three years.

When looking at the scores, Dr. Griffin points out that due to a decline in reading scores several years ago, the elementary school “has moved away from a reading curriculum that had been implemented for eight years and began using other reading resources and using PALS data to guide instruction, prevention, and intervention strategies.”

She points to a trend in increased reading pass rate for students who took the test in the third grade and then moved on to the fourth grade, stating “we expect to see more growth as our staff and students become more experienced with the new reading resources being implemented.”

The middle school experienced less of an achievement gap. Eighty-one percent of all students passed the SOL reading tests, four percent below the AMO target.

The high school exceeded all AMO targets in reading.

Much like the readjustment in math, the state has revamped English standards of learning. These updated standards will be tested for the first time this spring.

Because they did not meet all AMO targets, Cumberland Elementary and Middle School are required to implement improvement plans. However, no Cumberland schools were designated as Priority or Focus schools.

According to Dr. Griffin, the elementary and middle schools will update their current School Improvement Plans, ensuring that the federal AMO targets that were not met this year are addressed.