One of the poorest schools in Virginia, predominately Latino, sees dramatic rise in scores

One of Virginia’s poorest schools, which is predominately Latino, has seen a remarkable rise in standardized test scores for the second consecutive year.

Carlin Springs Elementary School, which has Arlington County’s highest rate of students receiving free or reduced-price meals, is roughly 70 percent Latino.

Low-income and Latino students have tended to perform much lower than their white or more affluent counterparts.

But, in part because of a concerted effort to help disadvantaged students do better on such tests, scores have risen across all subjects among students across Virginia, which stepped up the difficulty of the exams several years ago, according to the Washington Post.

Scores fell for a brief time afterward, but the effort by teachers to help students improve their scores started paying off last year. Still, the improvement at Carlin Springs was much more significant than that of many other schools with a student population from more affluent homes, the Post said.

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“Schools are adjusting to the new standards and the new framework for the test themselves,” said Steven R. Staples, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, according to the Post.

In the 2014-15 school year, for instance, 95 percent of third-grade math students at Carlin Springs passed that portion of the test, an increase of nearly 50 percent in two years.

The 95-percent passage rate was higher than even that in the predominately white, high-performing Arlington school district, which had a rate of 84 percent who passed.

Virginia officials say their new standards are more demanding than the Common Core State Standards, the national system favored by the Obama administration.

Across the state, students who failed the exams by narrow margins were allowed to retake them, a move that helped four percent of students who had failed to then pass.

“The legislation that we proposed and that I signed into law not only gives students a second chance, but more importantly, gives them the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the material,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement quoted in the Post. “By joining bipartisan legislation with the hard work of local school divisions, we are well on the way to preparing all of our students to succeed in the new Virginia economy.”

As is usually the case with standardized tests, there were concerns that students were being over-tested, and that exams were driving teaching. So Virginia streamlined testing this year, eliminating some in elementary and middle schools.

While nearly category of Virginia students made gains or stayed the same in the 2014-2015 school year, English language learners saw passage rates slide in three subjects: English writing, history and math. The state touted progress in closing the achievement gap between white students and Hispanic and black students, particularly since the introduction of harder tests three years ago.

Nearly 80 percent of Carlin Springs third-graders passed the reading portion, a significant improvement over two years ago, when less than half of the students passed. Fourth graders saw a 35-point jump in reading and a 21-point jump in the rate of those passing the math exam over the year before, the Post said.

The Post added: “The test-prep and academic support for struggling students at Carlin Springs could serve as a model for other struggling schools, though teachers and administrators have been cautious because the approach was just implemented two years ago. The most recent success provided another year of data, and the dramatic improvement continued.”

At the same time, some districts saw their immigrant students struggle with the exam.
Fairfax County saw gains in general, with more than 80 passing various tests.

But the passage rates for Fairfax students with limited English proficiency declined. English writing scores dropped from 59 percent in 2014 to 53 percent this year.

“The children we’re getting now who are English language learners are not only learning English but they’re engaging in literacy for the first time,” said Staples, the state’s superintendent of public instruction. “We’re getting children who haven’t been getting education even in their native language.”

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