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New tests blamed for poor SOL scores

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Winchester students' average on history exams falls sharply

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Blame the new tests, not the history teachers, Winchester Public School officials say.

Average scores fell significantly on Standards of Learning exams in the three history courses at John Handley High School taken last semester, according to the school system's director of instruction, Lynda Hickey.

Scores from Virginia and U.S. History as well as World History I and II fell an average 20 percent, according to Hickey, who reported the results to the Winchester School Board's instruction committee Thursday.

In the past, scores at the end of the school year reached the mid- to high 90s. The smaller group of students enrolled in the fall semester of the courses typically scored in the high 80s to low 90s, Hickey said. However, the fall 2010 semester scores dropped to the mid-70s, she said.

"These are fantastic teachers so we know something was different with the test," Hickey said. "We do know we had new SOLs, and what we're seeing across the state of Virginia, other schools that have 4-by-4 [block scheduling], they had the same concerns."

Students in block scheduling can take the history and other SOL classes in one semester or the other. Scores from tests taken after the fall semester are rolled into those calculated at the end of the school year.

Hickey said she didn't have specific data on how many students would have to retake the history SOLs exams as a result of low scores.

"Although we know that we embedded our new SOLs into our curriculum and [teachers] taught the same way they've been teaching and getting those high results, the only thing we can figure is that the format of the assessments must have been somewhat different," Hickey added.

"They improved, increased, updated and made more rigorous those particular standards," said Superintendent Rick Leonard. "This is the first rollout that reflects those standards."
The city school system isn't alone in its concerns, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

"We have heard from about 10 divisions regarding lower-than expected pass rates on the end-of-course SOL history tests administered this winter," Charles Pyles, director of communications for the department, stated by e-mail. "It is not uncommon for pass rates to dip when new tests are introduced."

As Pyles explained, the tests, based on history standards revised in 2008, include questions that "require students to apply knowledge rather than merely select the correct answer." A student may have to locate a place on a map rather than mark the right box on a multiple-choice question, according to Pyles.

Local school officials were taken off-guard by the new test, Leonard said.

"We're not allowed to look at that assessment, to investigate it, and we didn't have any practice-type questions so we're kind of blind in terms of where the absolute issues are," Hickey said. "We received no information from the state that said that format would change. All we really knew was that in each of the courses there were some content changes."

The state agency did give districts some idea of the changes for the recently updated mathematics SOLs, but not as much for the history assessment, according to Leonard.

Results came back later than hoped, and kept the district from responding earlier and expediting any retakes for students who performed poorly on the tests, according to Leonard.

But Hickey noted scores until now appear to show the teachers know the material and students can excel on the tests.

"We know that the information was taught, we're just not sure if we need to address, maybe from an instructional perspective, how it was taught," Hickey said.

District officials plan to discuss the concerns with the state Department of Education. Leonard said he predicts the next run of the tests will show improvement.


That's it! Blame it on the test. Not the students who took the test or the teachers that taught the class. It's the test fault. Something that can't define itself. Makes sense to me.
"Although we know that we embedded our new SOLs into our curriculum and [teachers] taught the same way they've been teaching and getting those high results . . "
I see the problem. The teachers taught the 'same way' EVEN though they KNEW it was a NEW SOL. IF something is 'new' and has changed from before, YOU have to change the way it's taught, RIGHT? I guess not according to Hickey.
Also, it's up to the students to understand it and be able to READ and UNDERSTAND questions.

So the implication is that you are teaching to the test so that when the test changes your students fail. Is that real teaching?

Honestly, it has been ages since I last saw a SOL test, but I remember them being fairly basic. I don't think the blame should be on the test, and not even on the teachers but on the students. I have a child in school and I have seen how the majority of other children act and it's horrible.

C'mon, it's history. Did the historical facts change that much from last year to this year? I guess I should go back to school after 25 yrs so I am not ignorant in the history of world.

Have either of you seen what crap the state is pushing on our schools? The teachers barely have time to teach! They are constantly testing. Pre-tests, practice tests, then the actual tests. Add in snow days and the term is half gone. (Yes, they are testing EVERY term.) So, yes, they ARE teaching to the test. They have to in order to meet state guidelines.

Excuse me, but I myself am a high schooler who took that SOL test. The teachers and students are in no place to blame. I failed the sol test by one question...a few weeks later after study sessions with my teacher retook the test along with about 15 other students in my grade from 2 teachers. Out of about 15 students 3 students passed that test. This SOL test was too hard. The teachers did a very good job teaching the subject. This has happened in years past when the test changed, but everyone has to adapt to it. In no place is the teachers from any county to blame. Every teacher did their job. I know of a teacher who has always had very high sol scores and this year had the extreme opposite. I would like to say thanks to all the teachers out there for doing a great job and trying there best under pressure... By the way blame the test... blame the sol makers!

I think that one thing people overlook is that students these days are more worried about their cell phones and text messages than their school work.Schools need to ban those items.We got along perfectly fine without them when we went to school.

The SOL's were the death of real teaching in Virginia.

No, it isn't "real teaching". If you all would listen to the teachers, you'd find that they've been trying to tell everybody that for years now...

NCLB has made our schools into SOL Test-taking factories. Administrations hound teachers about the SOLs and teachers have taken to using strategies in their classrooms that help the maximum number of kids pass that test....

I'd like everyone to think on that VERY hard the next time they start crying that teacher's need to be paid based on merit and we're going to measure their performance based on...... STANDARDIZED TESTS...

This past October, The Washington Post did an article reporting Virginia history textbooks published by Five Ponds Press and others contained a long list (over ten pages) of historical inaccuracies. According to the article, in the version of history being taught in some Virginia classrooms:

· New Orleans began the 1800s as a bustling U.S. harbor (instead of as a Spanish colonial one).
· The Confederacy included 12 states (instead of 11).
· The United States entered World War I in 1916 (instead of in 1917).
· African American soldiers fought for the South in large numbers during the Civil War. (The claim is one often made by Confederate heritage groups but rejected by most mainstream historians.)

Does testing prove the knowledge possessed by the student or does it prove something else?

So from the comments I've read here, public school kids should not have to pass a test to show knowledge (which I agree with), but, from comments past, home schooled kid whose parents use a religious exemption need to pass a test to show knowledge. Interesting...

Uh, Oh, we're agreeing again Irishman! ;)

Yeah, we need to stop doing that Kim or we might actually prove that differing political philosophies CAN find common ground and get things done!!! We can't have THAT now, can we? How Un-American!! ;-)

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