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ArlingtonOpinionEditorial: SOL scores expose the tragedy of a lost year

Editorial: SOL scores expose the tragedy of a lost year

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Virginia Department of Education officials were out with 2020-21 Standards of Learning (SOLs) results last week. It was not a pretty picture.

Particularly in science and math, pass rates among Virginia students cratered, sometimes as much as 30 points. In many cases, it was students in the lower elementary-school grades who showed the poorest results. That learning deficit may last a lifetime.

(Pass rates in the English/writing tests were not as calamitous, but certainly nothing to brag about.)

Local school districts were not immune, and in some cases led the downturn, based on our scanning of figures from Arlington and Fairfax counties.

State education leaders professed that it would be unfair for the public (and presumably politicians and the press) to compare the 2020-21 figures with pre-COVID pass rates. It would be like comparing apples and oranges, they seemed to suggest.

They are wrong. We all should be comparing the 2020-21 rates with what came before, because the “nosedive into a sea of mediocrity” (as our news coverage put it) was emblematic of conscious decision-making by state and, in this part of Virginia at least, local education leaders, who marched students into an online environment that, at this point, everyone involved has to agree was nearly a year’s worth of wasted effort. Because now we have the data to prove those assumptions.

Assuming that school leaders can keep classrooms open this school year – anyone want to bet? – teachers and students will be faced with the Herculean task of simultaneously playing catch-up while also attempting to get learning in sync with grade-level material.

That’s a tough enough challenge, but if students are forced back into “Zoom school,” we’ll see another year of scant learning, of horrible SOL 2021-22 SOL scores and, next year at this time, state school leaders pleading with the public not to compare those results with pre-COVID, either.

This all should be a clarion call to the School Board members of Northern Virginia. When you start getting pressure to close schools again this year, and you will, remember that actions have consequences, and consequences can be measured in statistical data.

The time has come for adults to embark on mature decision-making, not hysterical overreactions. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past year.

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