Elementary, middle school SOL tests discontinued

Published 10:42 am Saturday, October 25, 2014

The 2014 Virginia General Assembly eliminated five Standards of Learning tests required by public schools, but that isn’t going to make it any easier on the school divisions, said Willie Bell, Franklin superintendent.

The discontinued tests are grade 3 history and social science, grade 3 science, grade 5 writing; and for middle school students, U.S. History I and U.S. History II. The two bills, HB 930 and SB 306, do require that schools administer a local test that is consistent with Virginia Board of Education guidelines.

“Don’t think the work load is reduced just because the number of tests has been reduced,” Bell said. “Most large school districts have personnel that can quickly come up with a rubric process that can provide alternative assessments.

“In smaller school districts, however, we are handcuffed again.”

With so many people in the district already wearing 10 hats, that this would effectively put more work on the district’s plate, rather than less.

“We are trying to work smarter instead of harder,” Bell said. “We have to create something authentic that is comparable to an SOL assessment. We have to show that students are still making progress.”

In the Isle of Wight County Public School Division, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and Curriculum Laura Abel said the system has had a program in place for many years to create benchmark assessments given at several points during the school year to help determine student progress toward mastering essential knowledge and skills. It’s called CheckPoint Assessments, and they will continue to administer the tests.

Abel also said they have developed a plan to help teachers become comfortable using performance-based teaching strategies and assessments.

“We believe that the state has given us a great window of opportunity to take learning to the next level and move away from simply testing to see if students know the information, but more importantly, we need to know if and how they can apply what they have learned to real world problems and situations,” Abel said.

Dr. Shannon Smith, Franklin’s director of instruction, said that they would put together a team to design the assessments. She recently attended the Virginia Advanced Study Strategies training session in Richmond on Sept. 23, which included this topic.

Smith said as divisions roll this out this year, it will be a pilot year for them to try things with nothing punitive attached.

“We’ll move as fast as we can, as fast as we can get trained,” Smith said. “We’ll come away with something representative as we move forward.”