Roots, Resilience, & Renewal - Week 7


What a GREAT week! I don’t want to jinx it but...we have not had a COVID case this week! Thank you all so much for your continued vigilance and support of our work to keep students and staff safe.

This week’s update is a little longer and I am sorry about that...please do read the whole thing when you have time this weekend. The information included is important for the community to know. Thanks!

Thank you to all that came out to meet me at Donald Frady Park this week. It was really great to spend some time with members of the community and hear the incredible support you have for the schools and provide some great feedback I have shared with the internal team. Be on the lookout for an upcoming date and place in November. One of the multiple ways I communicate is via my Twitter account which is @peternoonan - please feel free to follow for one more way to be “in the know.”

FCCPS Strategic Plan 

As School Board Chair Shannon Litton shared during Tuesday evening’s meeting, FCCPS is excited to engage stakeholders (students, staff, parents, and community members) in the strategic planning process. There is a lot more information on the  FCCPS website.  This month there will be two opportunities to share your ideas about the future of the school division. Your participation will help FCCPS to identify key instructional priorities, drive practice across our schools, and ensure representation of all voices within our community.

  1. Complete the Community Assessment Form which will be released next week in Morning Announcements and on FCCPS website.  It will be open until October 29, and will provide all community members an opportunity to comment on the FCCPS Strategic Plan.

  2. Join the Virtual Town Hall on Thursday, October 28 at 7:00 p.m. This one hour session will include an overview of the strategic planning process and facilitated small group discussions about your experiences within FCCPS.  Register here and you will receive the link to the Town Hall.

This Week’s Data Presentation to the School Board

Like all things’s more than a sound bite...

At Tuesday’s School Board meeting, FCCPS staff gave the annual presentation regarding data and measurement of student progress. It included a wide range of data that tells the story of FCCPS, but was not the usual charts and graphs for a variety of reasons. Read on to find out...

Here’s What Was Different

Virginia did not have SOL testing two Springs ago (2020). In the Spring of 2021 all schools were required to test students with traditional tests, despite the pandemic-related disruption of moving among various instructional models. FCCPS was the first school division in this area to offer full in-person instruction (beginning February 23), but it was a tough year to gain instructional momentum with all of the transitions from hybrid to online, to hybrid, to online, to hybrid, to face-to-face. 

In 2019, the last time school was held in person for a full year with a “regular” instructional model, FCCPS SOL scores exceeded 90% in every tested content area and were between #1 and #3 in the state in almost every tested category.  Despite the challenges of the pandemic, FCCPS remains in the top 3 divisions in most tested areas across the Commonwealth. With the 2021 tests, every school division in Virginia’s scores dropped when compared with 2019 scores. The good news is that as a division FCCPS dropped significantly less than most, and even gained in an area. FCCPS is on the path to recovery, working with every student by name and by need.

The Importance of Context

Because of the disruptions of the past two years, there is no context in which we can effectively place this past year’s SOL testing. The Virginia Department of Education noted in the score reports that 2021 SOL scores should not be reviewed or used for programmatic purposes. They should only be used for purposes of identifying the students who need support this year in their instructional program. With our amazing instructional staff, we started that process as soon as we received the scores in August. 

From a data science perspective and best practices in data management, the Spring 2021 SOL results should not, and cannot, be compared with any prior year’s SOL results or other schools or districts, because of the inconsistent approach to teaching and learning over the past two years across the Commonwealth. 

The data alone, without context, tells a story but not the full story. Adding context creates more than a sound bite. For example:

  • Prior to 2019, all students who did not pass an SOL were given the opportunity to retake the test. In FCCPS, many of the students who took advantage of this were able to pass on the second attempt, and in most cases scores in overall tested categories rose by a total of 5%. Because of a change to the state requirements, many students who did not pass an SOL test did not retake the test. 

  • In spring 2021, the State offered various waivers that allowed students who did not pass their first attempt of the SOL whose score fell within a certain threshold to apply for a Locally Verified credit if they met other criteria. In years past, students needed to test at least a second time and fall within a narrower threshold.

  • Across the state, numerous students did not test due to COVID reasons, but did not fill out the COVID opt-out form. Those students received 0 scores, as opposed to a No Score on their reports. These 0 scores were included in our total count of tested students.

  • During Spring 2021, the State offered waivers that allowed for greater flexibility for students to earn a Verified Credit. This included using performance-based assessments for social studies classes.

  • A greater number of our students than ever before, in all grades, opted out of SOL testing last year. While the SOL scores of students who opted out didn’t “count against” FCCPS, it affected the overall results in two ways.

  1. It reduced the size of the pool of tested students, which magnifies inequities.

  2. Those who opted out were students who traditionally performed well on SOL tests. When the high performers opt out, the overall average drops.

  • The scores of students who take advanced math classes are counted with the advanced math course, no matter what their grade. For example, when a 7th grader takes Algebra I, the scores are aggregated with Algebra students in grades 7, 8, and 9, but not as part of the 7th grade math score. As a result FCCPS 7th grade math SOL results do not include every student in the grade. 

  • Best practices for analyzing data require certain constants - such as number of school days, hours of instruction, similar instructional methodologies, etc.  As we all know, the 2020-21 school year presented challenges across all of these areas. Our students, staff, and families did the absolute best they could under the unprecedented circumstances. That said, there is no way to properly compare the SOL data from Spring 2021 to any other school year because of the many fluctuating variables. Put another way, any statistical comparison of the Spring 2021 data to previous years - or even to other school division's Spring 2021 data - is inherently flawed.  This is precisely why the VDOE has instructed school staff to not review Spring 2021 SOL results for programmatic purposes.

What Happens Next? 

The Spring 2021 SOL results provide useful data for FCCPS to identify the specific students who need extra time and support for learning this year. Our staff reviewed each student’s data, and developed plans for every student by name and by need to support their learning this year. This started with invitations to summer school, and continues with additional resources in reading and mathematics, funded with COVID-relief money that FCCPS received from the Federal and State government. FCCPS has contracted with reading and math experts who serve as coaches and teachers in our schools to support learning. We are providing individual tutoring, guided study, school counselling contacts, support with social workers, and more to ensure we support those students identified as in need.

FCCPS is clear-eyed that some students suffered from the “COVID slide.” Those who need extra time and support for learning, and those who are in the gap groups, have been identified for the extra support and are receiving it from our schools based on the SOL data and other data sources we have. 

In the end FCCPS could have reported many bright spots that we do see in the data like FCCPS being ranked #2 in the Commonwealth of Virginia in overall SOL results and areas that were not up to our standard. However, that would be an inappropriate use of the data as, again, it was never meant to be anything other than a way to identify individual students who need support - not for comparison. This is not about lack of transparency...this is about integrity.

Over the course of the year, FCCPS will continually update the School Board on other data that more clearly reflects academic progress. Staff will share STAR data, other formative measures, and intervention planning documents. We will share anecdotes from the schools of what is happening to support students. We will do all of this because the appropriate question for all of us to ask is ourselves is:

“Now that you have identified those students that struggled the most last year, what are you doing about it?”

We look forward to sharing more about what we are doing with the Board and the whole community.

Thank you for your continued support as we work together to move FCCPS forward.

Mitigation Matters

This week a neighboring district moved their entire elementary school back to full online instruction because of a COVID outbreak. We are deeply saddened that they had to do this as the continuity of instruction for the students impacted is significant. It is, however, a good reminder that we still have COVID in our community and it can be transmitted in schools. While we have done our best to keep the numbers down through mitigation, we must continue to be vigilant as a community and fight this to the end. Please continue to do your part and we will continue to do ours. It is truly a team effort.

FCCPS COVID By The Numbers:


This Week:

Cumulative from August 1:

# of Student Cases:



# of Staff Cases



# of Students in Quarantine



FCCPS Rate of Transmission

Moderate for Falls Church City

High for Fairfax Health District

*Please note that these data are just a snapshot of FCCPS in total and are adjusted based on the outcomes of each contact tracing investigation.

ViSSTA/FCCPS COVID Screening Test Program Update:

We are getting close to launching our COVID screening test program in collaboration with VDH and VDOE. As we have previously shared this is a completely voluntary program. If you wish your student(s) to participate in the program you must provide permission. We do hope that every student will be able to participate in this program, which is another way we are able to keep our students safe and our schools healthy. Please follow the link below to provide permission electronically. You will need to complete a separate permission form for each student. 

ViSSTA/FCCPS COVID Screening Authorization

Peter Noonan

Superintendent of Schools
Falls Church City Public Schools