Back to school: School districts plan for fewer SOL tests

By Josette Keelor

Changes in nationwide Standards of Learning requirements have allowed for fewer standardized tests at the public school level beginning this fall. Administrators in the Northern Shenandoah Valley say the reduction of SOL tests has long been anticipated and will free schools to focus more on other ways of measuring student success.

The result isn’t perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction, said Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent David Sovine, who explained the decision will “reduce the over-reliance on standardized testing.”

Following a statewide push by public school jurisdictions for a reduction in the number of SOL tests, the Virginia General Assembly voted in March to require 17 tests for grades three through eight instead of 22. The number of tests for high schools has remained unchanged. In total, Virginia students will take 29 SOL tests before graduating from high school.

The reduction is only five tests over six years, but according to Chuck Bishop, new superintendent for Clarke County Public Schools, it helps alleviate the “full battery of tests” previously required of third graders in particular.

Now in third grade, SOLs will focus on language arts and math, he said. Overall, the new requirements will “reduce some of the stress and burden on students, parents, staff members,” Bishop said.

History SOLs have been removed from third, sixth and seventh grade, as well as writing from fifth grade and science from third grade, said Greg Drescher, assistant superintendent of instruction for Warren County Public Schools.

However, fewer SOLs do not mean fewer tests. The General Assembly’s decision requires schools must certify its alternative assessments for third grade social studies and science, fifth grade writing and sixth and seventh grade social studies. Area schools plan to determine their entire list of tests once the school year starts.

Students will now take only one writing SOL before ninth grade, but in Warren County, “We’re assessing writing four times a year,” Drescher said.

In Frederick County, the goal of testing is to “make real world connections,” Sovine said.
“We welcome those types of assessments.”

Last year the county’s SAT testing scores hit a four-year high, exceeding the national average, but Sovine said there are other ways of measuring school success. On-time graduation rates and career readiness also indicate a school district’s progress.

Superintendent Jeremy Raley reminded that students in Shenandoah County have experienced several recent triumphs through local chapters of the Future Farmers of America, proving their proficiency in areas of science and agriculture.

“SOL reform in Virginia is a positive in my opinion,” Raley said.

“It is a measure but should not be the measuring that determines the success of a school or school division,” he said. “We continue to use a variety of means to assess student progress and determine how children are doing in school.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com