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Should students take fewer tests?

RICHMOND—Complaints about rote memorization and over-tested schoolchildren are prompting proposals to reform Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests.

House Republicans on Tuesday said they’ll push to reduce the number of SOL tests from 34 to 26, eliminating tests mostly from elementary and middle school grades, and focusing more on reading and math skills.

Del. Tag Greason, R–Loudoun, said politicians constantly hear complaints about the SOL tests from parents.

“Everybody has an opinion on it,” Greason said. “If you talk to any parent in the commonwealth ,” the quetion is, “What are you going to do about SOLs?”

He said the SOLs rely too heavily on multiple-choice questions and “rote memorization,” and that lawmakers think the state can figure out a way to measure student achievement while reducing tests and focusing the remaining tests more on critical thinking and problem solving.

Lawmakers from both parties have filed at least 19 bills related to the SOL tests. Greason said the House will have a subcommittee looking at education reform, and it will hear these bills.

Greason and others said overall SOL reform won’t be achieved just in this legislative session, but is a longer-term goal.

“We’re not going to fix the whole thing in 60 days,” Greason said. “This is a significant step for us and we want to make sure we do it right.”

Republicans propose to eliminate: the third-grade science and history SOL tests; the fourth-grade Virginia Studies SOL; and the fifth- and sixth-grade U.S. History SOLs.

In high school, they’d cut out earth science and geometry SOLs and replace them with new writing and reading SOL tests.

Greason said the idea, especially in elementary school, is to focus on reading and math.

The goal of revising the SOLs is one shared by new Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who frequently mentioned SOL reform on the campaign trail and touched on it in his first speech to the legislature Monday night.

McAuliffe said he heard frequently that Virginia over-tests students, ties up teachers with testing schedules and should look at essays and other ways to measure learning.

“The SOLs have been a tremendous success for our state, but they are now a generation old and need to be modernized to fit the needs of today’s families and today’s economy,” McAuliffe said. “I am optimistic that we can reform the SOLs in a way that maintains our high education standards, while encouraging innovation and creativity in the classroom.”

House Majority Leader Del. Kirk Cox, R–Colonial Heights, said he was glad to hear McAuliffe embrace SOL reform and has spoken with the governor about it.

House Republicans have other education proposals, including expansion of a “strategic compensation” plan for teachers. They also want to integrate virtual classes into more students’ brick-and-mortar school day.

Greason said that would give students the chance at “an unlimited number of combinations that a student can choose.”

“This is truly about creating a customized experience for the child,” he said.

Lawmakers have not gone so far as to work out how education funding formulas—which determine how much state money each school district gets per student—would be affected by students taking some of their classes online. In recent years there have been questions about how to allocate money for students who may live in one county but participate in a virtual school based in a different locality.

“Future steps will absolutely have to address funding issues,” Greason said.

Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245

cdavis@freelancestar.com

 

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