Far fewer Halifax County students passed Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) tests in the 2020-2021 school year than the last time students took the tests, at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

With Virginia schools shut down from mid-March 2020 through the end of the 2019-2020 school year, students did not take SOLs that school year.

The SOL test results for the previous school year released Thursday by the Virginia Department of Education showed student achievement on SOLs took a dip across the board in Virginia schools, an impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that was anticipated due to disruptions in student learning since spring 2020.

Halifax County’s 2020-2021 SOL pass rates were 58.53% for English: reading, 28.77% for English: writing, 29.49% for history and social science, 29.25% for mathematics and 37.82% for science.

Those scores reflect a marked decline from the school district’s 2018-2019 pass rates of 73.46% for English: reading, 63.57% for English: writing, 69.62% for history and social science, 79.54% for mathematics and 75.15% for science.

Dr. Mark Lineburg, superintendent of Halifax County Public Schools, said the SOL scores are not an indication that HCPS students cannot achieve or that teachers did not effectively execute instruction, but rather it is an indication of a school year where the learning process for students was different than in years past due to COVID-19.

“I think the SOL scores are an absolute indication of a schooling process that we did our best with, but there’s no way it could be as effective as face-to-face,” Lineburg explained. “You had little or less face-to-face instruction last year than you’ve ever had. More than that, you missed the whole spring the year before.”

Like HCPS, statewide SOL pass rates for the 2020-2021 school year dropped significantly. Virginia students statewide scored 69.34% for English: reading, 69% for English: writing, 54.54% for history and social science, 54.18% for mathematics, and 59.45% for science.

In comparison, Virginia’s SOL pass rates for the 2018-2019 school year were 77.55 for English: reading, 75.74 for English: writing, 79.99 for history and social science, 82.05 for mathematics, and 80.91 for science.

“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,” Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction James Lane said. “The connections, structures and supports our school communities provide are irreplaceable, and many students did not have access to in-person instruction for the full academic year. We must now focus on unfinished learning and acceleration to mitigate the impact the pandemic has had on student results.”

While Virginia students’ SOL scores took a steep drop last school year, the number of students taking the SOL was lower than in years past, as well.

Virginia students’ SOL pass rates for the 2020-2021 school year do not count toward their school’s accreditation because of COVID-19. All schools will have the rating “Accreditation Waived.”

Because the test scores did not count toward schools’ accreditation last school year, parents could opt out of the testing.

Lineburg said some parents opted out because they either did not feel comfortable with their child entering the school to take the SOL because of COVID-19 or they did not feel their child was prepared to take the test.

Virginia Department of Education also has made the decision once again not to count student test scores for the upcoming school year, 2021-2022, toward schools’ accreditation ratings.

Addressing the loss in student learning from spring 2020 and the 2020-2021 school year will be a long process, Lineburg said. The learning loss also came at a time when HCPS was making great strides in student achievement.

“What’s disappointing is if you go back two years ago, we celebrated getting all nine of our schools accredited. We worked tirelessly to get there, and it was a big accomplishment for us,” Lineburg related. “We went from four schools accredited to nine schools accredited, and we saw growth. COVID-19 has in essence unwound a lot of that growth that we had.”

HCPS has invested a significant amount of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds it has received in tutors, extra teachers and student support specialists to address gaps in student learning, Lineburg said.

He added the school district also has some after school programs in place, and each school has a variety of programs and “specific strategies” in place to address student-learning loss.

While HCPS is making an all-out effort to provide additional instruction and support to students to raise student achievement, it will not be a quick fix, and with COVID-19 cases on the rise in Halifax County once again, the 2021-2022 school year may prove challenging, as well.

“The answer to COVID is not a one-year fix. It’s going to be a 12, 13, 14-year fix. It’s step by step,” Lineburg said. “You missed a year of school somewhere in there, and likely there will be some start-ups and shut-downs this school year. The road this year is going to be bumpy, too.”

The 2021-2022 school year starts today for HCPS students.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.