Local school chiefs pleased as bill to cut SOL tests advances

Posted: March 11, 2014

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — Area school superintendents are pleased with the passage of legislation that would delay and reduce the number of assessments both schools and students will face in the future.

Over the weekend, state lawmakers passed a bill that would reduce the number of Standards of Learning tests for younger students and one that would delay a policy that proposes assigning letter grades to schools based on performance.

The bills must still be signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“It’s a great first step to having a deep and meaningful conversation about the role of assessments in Virginia public schools,” said Clarke County Superintendent Mike Murphy, who added that the state has made schools “assessment crazy.”

Murphy also praised legislators for passing the bills.

“I want to recognize the passionate voices who say, ‘Time out, let’s study this and make sure it’s the right thing to do,’” he said.

The first bill would lower the number of Standards of Learning tests from 22 to 17 for grades three through eight beginning with the 2014-15 school year. It would cut science and social studies tests from the third grade, writing and science tests from the fifth grade and a social studies test from the eighth grade.

School boards, however, would have to certify that students were given an alternative assessment in each subject area no longer requiring a Standards of Learning test.

The bill would also establish a Standards of Learning Innovation Committee to continually look at Virginia’s standardized testing practices.

Superintendent David Sovine said that he and the Frederick County School Board have continually advocated for a re-examination of Virginia’s public school assessments and its system of accountability to better reflect what students know.

“We are not opposed to school accountability, but any system used to hold schools, teachers and administrators accountable must rely on multiple measures of student and school success as opposed to just high-stakes tests,” Sovine said in a written statement Monday.

The second bill that passed would push back — from October 2014 to October 2016 — the implementation of an A-F grading policy for schools across Virginia.

The policy was part of former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s education initiative that required the Virginia Board of Education to grade each school on a scale of A-F, in addition to the more detailed accreditation standards already given.

In grading schools, the bill states that the board would be able to take into account accreditation, state and federal accountability requirements, state-mandated assessments, student growth, the experience and qualifications of school staff, total cost and funding per pupil, school safety and other factors that it deems necessary.

Critics of the bill say an A-F system in addition to the current rating systems would be confusing for the public, as a school could be fully accredited and earn a C grade.

Also, measuring school success can be complicated, and an A-F system might be too simplified.

Sovine said delaying the implementation of the program would allow state officials to determine whether there is any value to the system in Virginia and allow them to further develop the basis for grading a school, “so that any grades assigned to a particular school fairly represent the quality of the educational program being offered there.”

Winchester Schools Superintendent Rick Leonard did not return calls for comment for this story.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com