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County school boards seek testing reform

By Ryan Cornell

A resolution gaining massive support among local school divisions calls on the Virginia General Assembly to reform standardized testing and replace the multiple-choice tests with more authentic assessments.

The resolution was passed by Frederick County Public Schools in September and more recently by Shenandoah County Public Schools at a board meeting last Thursday.

According to Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley, more than 60 school divisions in Virginia have signed the resolution.

He said he supports keeping accountability in schools, but wants to move toward a more balanced approach when it comes to measuring student achievement.

"We believe there is more to measuring student success than a single student assessment," he said. "Those essential global skills are not being measured by a single SOL [Standards of Learning] assessment."

Those essential skills include creativity, innovation, collaboration, communication and critical thinking, Raley said. He named capstone projects, portfolio assessments and hands-on projects as examples of measuring those skills

"Things you would find in a real world setting, not in a multiple-choice assessment," he said.

The resolution states that the "relentless test preparation" and "boring memorization of facts" imposed by standardized tests steal the love of learning from students.

It further states that there is little research backing up the assumptions that taking and passing the 34 criterion-referenced tests between third and 11th grade prepares students for the future or are reliable measurements for student achievement and teacher, principal or superintendent performance.

Steve Edwards, coordinator of policy and communications for Frederick County Public Schools, said the division approved the resolution in a Sept. 17 board meeting.

"I think what has happened is there is a number of different school boards across the state that have been working with legislators to reduce the number of SOL tests that have been administered," he said. "The number of assessments has gotten to be too much."

He pointed to legislation introduced by Delegate J. Randall Minchew (R-10) to the Virginia General Assembly: House Bill 447. The bill requires the number and type of assessments to meet but not exceed the minimal requirements established by the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, among other changes.

"We obviously support that measure and are supportive of Minchew taking the time to understand the issue and give it due consideration," Edwards said.

Warren County Public Schools superintendent Pam McInnis, who said she agrees with the resolution, said the School Board hasn't approved it yet, but plans to have it on the Feb. 13 meeting agenda.

The resolution will be deliberated in the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond. If passed, standardized testing reform would be implemented in all public schools across Virginia.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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