Voices’ Blog

The Need to Read: What 3rd Grade SOL Test Scores Say About Virginia’s Children

Posted:  -  By: S. Beth Nolan

By: Carly Green, University of Richmond Intern

Throughout Virginia, school looks different in every district. From school lunch programs to advanced course availability, educational resources can vary widely.

Over time, a variety of federal, state, and local policy choices have contributed to geographic segregation and unequal investment across school districts. The result of these policies, coupled with the variation of resources among Virginia’s school districts affect students at a young age.

From kindergarten through second grade, children learn to read. Starting in third grade, children read to learn. Reading comprehension is a critical foundational block for all other learning throughout a child’s academic experience.  Literacy – or illiteracy – impacts a child’s well-being and opportunity for success far beyond graduation.

This is why the pass rate for the 3rd grade Standard of Learning (SOL) Reading exam is an important indicator for child well-being, and one that Voices tracks closely. Across Virginia, 76% of children passed the SOL reading exam last school year. This means nearly 1 in 4 children did not develop the literacy skills they needed by third grade. Additionally, student pass rates on the SOL exam for all children decreased 7% between 2010 and 2015.

While we must do better to prepare all children for success in learning, African American and Hispanic children are more likely to fail the 3rd grade SOL reading exam than white children. These students have experienced more significant declines in pass rates over the past five years when compared to children of other ethnicities or the total student population. In the 2015-2016 school year, 62% of African American students and 71% of Hispanic students passed the exam, compared to 82% of white children. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of Hispanic students who passed the SOL exam decreased by 22%.

The good news is that the last two years have shown an upward trend in pass rates, inching back towards peak levels enjoyed in 2011-2012. Children of minority populations continue to be disproportionately impacted by the implications of low literacy. Policymakers must acknowledge that children have different starting points, which may require different solutions across the Commonwealth; but that all students, regardless of where they live or the color of their skin, deserve the same opportunity to learn to read.  Every student in Virginia should pass his or her SOL exam so they can read to learn and read to succeed.

For additional information on education and the racial inequities that Virginia’s children face, check out the latest by going to www.vakids.org/kids-count-data and navigating to our KIDS COUNT Data Center.



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