SOL reform receives passing marks

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

State officials want public school students spending more time learning and less time preparing for standardized tests, a move that has parents and teachers hopeful.

The House of Delegates last week approved a bill by Delegate Rob Krupicka (D-45) reducing the number of times students in the third through eighth grades take the state Standards of Learning tests from 22 to 17. The measure now heads to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) desk.

Krupicka, a former member of the state Board of Education, said the measure lets teachers spend class time previously devoted to test preparation for more individualized instruction.

“I think the biggest thing that SOL reform does is it frees up classroom time so teachers can do more creative instruction, instead of simply drilling students for high-stakes tests,” he said. “That makes school more fun for students, and my personal view is that it leads to better results academically.”
Instead of statewide tests that often focus on multiple-choice questions, Krupicka said schools could develop alternative assessments that better judge students’ academic abilities.

“The biggest problem of over-testing is that it’s taking away from teachers’ ability to teach content more deeply,” he said. “[The new testing model] gives them time to do individual instruction and use more creative projects to make school more interesting and help students to truly understand the content.”

Melynda Wilcox, who spoke as a parent rather than in her capacity as president of the Alexandria PTA Council, said most are glad to see the state cut back on comprehensive standardized tests.

“My impression is that most parents are grateful that the state is taking another look at the testing schedule, because most parents feel like the pendulum swung too far in direction of over-testing,” she said. “Where the equilibrium is, I don’t know; I’m not an expert in that field. But I do think parents are grateful for the state taking a look at this.”

Alexandria City School Board vice chairman Christopher Lewis said that while the school board supported the reduction in SOL exams, it is important to differentiate standardized, end-of-year assessments from the internal testing the district conducts throughout the year to track student progress.

“Having data on students regularly throughout the school year is extremely helpful when you’re trying to meet the individualized needs of each student,” Lewis said. “It can also be helpful in differentiating instruction in the classroom, since there are students at different instruction levels within each class. It’s finding that balance that’s important.”

Lewis believes merely removing a few year-end tests could make a world of difference.

“Certainly, we all hear about how much pressure there is on students and teachers at the end of the year during SOL time, so the work they’re doing can help relieve some of that.”

Along with reforming the SOLs, the General Assembly agreed to delay implementation of an A through F grading system for all public schools for at least another year, said Krupicka. Critics of the proposal, enacted by former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) last year, argued the system oversimplified school assessment data and would more likely grade schools by student wealth than progress on academic benchmarks.

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