March 10, 2014
Changes could be ahead for the standardized tests students in Virginia take, and they could ease some pressure on both teachers and students.
Virginia lawmakers are trying to reduce the number of tests students need to take.
"Our fifth-grade students were taking five tests. They were taking math, reading, writing, social studies and science," said Billy Haun, Albemarle County's assistant superintendent for student learning. "So that's a lot of assessments for one grade level to take in one year."
Under current code, schools are required to give 34 standards of learning tests in just one academic year. A third-grade student is required to take four in the academic year.
"We were real concerned about the number of assessments that especially our elementary students were taking, but in middle school, as well," Haun said.
In the 2014 session, the General Assembly passed a bill that would decrease the number of SOL tests required from 34 to 26.
"We still will assess their learning. We still will teach the content in those areas," Haun said. "But now we have some flexibility to do more of a performance-type assessment, or a different type assessment of student learning rather than a multiple-choice test."
Many parents say they see problems with the SOLs, and this is the first step for reform.
"I don't think it's the teachers' fault," Albemarle County parent Sarah Canady Schultz said. "I do think the teachers are doing what they have to be doing, they're doing what they're told to be doing."
Schultz has three children, two of whom are students in the public schools. Her oldest daughter, now in sixth grade, struggled as the SOLs approached.
"It was extremely anxiety-producing. I don't know why it hit her like that," Schultz said. "She was actually staying up at night worrying about it."
Albemarle County school officials say their approach to tests is problem-based learning, something not accounted for through the SOLs.
"We're trying to measure growth with SOLs, and that's not what those tests were designed for," Haun said.
The schools use other assessment tests that measure students' growth or college readiness, whereas the SOLs serve as the statewide standard of what students should be learning in the classroom.
"I think it's important to have a standard of learning," Schultz said. "I think tests can be worthwhile if they're good tests, if they're testing worthwhile information such as logic and reasoning skills."
If Gov. Terry McAuliffe signs the bill, the changes for the SOLs would be in effect for the 2014-2015 academic year. There is also ongoing research into the SOLs that high school students take, and further legislation could follow in upcoming sessions of the General Assembly.