SOL test changes welcomed

April 9, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer 

Henry County Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton said he is pleased the number of Standards of Learning (SOL) tests has been reduced. 

Last week, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a bill that reduces the number of state standardized tests, called Standards of Learning exams, that elementary and middle school students have to take from 22 to 17, The Associated Press reported.

The SOL tests to be eliminated are: grade 3 — history and science, and grade 5 — writing, U.S. history to 1865 and U.S. history 1865 to present. 

The SOL tests being retained are reading and math in grades 3-8; science in grades 5 and 8; Virginia studies; civics and economics; writing in grade 8; and all EOC (end-of-course) tests in all subjects.

Cotton said the school division still will require students to master the necessary SOL content with or without a required state assessment at the end of the year. 

“As noted in the new legislation, school divisions will need to certify that alternative assessments were provided for these subjects that will be excluded from the state assessment program,” he said. “In Henry County, this is an opportunity for us to develop and administer relevant, innovative assessments to our students.”

“... School divisions like Henry County will be able to create more authentic assessments locally that can be used to assess student mastery of skills in science and history,” he said. 

Cotton explained authentic assessments are “real-life, relevant assessments. They are assessments that apply what was learned to the real world. It is usually hands-on in nature.”

The school division already has been working diligently “to revamp the curriculum to include hands-on, performance-based assessments that require students to apply their learning of SOL content to a real-world context,” he said. 

In addition, Cotton said, HCPS “has been focusing on helping students master important college and career readiness skills such as critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration and communication. These essential skills cannot be assessed effectively through a multiple-choice assessment.”

“As a result, this change will be more in line with our local adjustments to our assessment program,” he added. 

Cotton said there could be some additional costs to the school division if it needs to buy new assessments to use.

Martinsville Schools Superintendent Pam Heath said that she had not yet reviewed the changes to the changes, but planned to Tuesday night. 

According to information provided by Julie Grimes, communications manager with the Virginia Department of Education, H.B. 930 (introduced by Del. Thomas A. “Tag” Greason)/S.B. 306 (introduced by Sen. R. Creigh Deeds):

• Provides that the number and type of SOL assessments shall not exceed 17 specified assessments in grades 3-8. 

• Requires each local school board to certify that it has provided instruction and administered an alternative assessment, conforming with board guidelines, for each subject area in which the SOL assessment was not administered.

• Requires the secretary of education to establish the SOL Innovation Committee to periodically review the SOLs and assessments. 

Grimes added that the Virginia Board of Education has been tasked with developing guidelines to assist school divisions.

“We may know more about the guidelines for the alternative assessments after the April 23 Board of Education committee meeting,” Grimes said. “I encourage you (and others) to log in to view the discussions that will be streamed, as (the) assistant superintendent of student assessment and school improvement will be outlining the board’s legislative responsibility regarding this.”  


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