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The group said the state's testing system negatively affects students and teachers.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Just a day after the annual Virginia Standards of Learning pass rates were released, some in the Roanoke Valley are calling for changes to the state’s testing system, which has measured student achievement for almost two decades.
Roanoke County School Board Member Mike Stovall, state Sen. John Edwards and others want to see a statewide group established to review the assessments and make changes.
Stovall and a group that included about a dozen teachers gathered Wednesday on the steps of William Byrd High School to call for change because, they said, the tests have had a negative impact on students and teachers.
“Some don’t want to go to schools because of SOLs,” retired educator Bootie Chewning said of some students .
She implored the group to “take a stand against SOLs” and said teachers should be allowed to teach, which earned applause from the group of educators standing with her.
Stovall, who is running unopposed for re-election, said children take 34 assessments each year. He recalled talking to a parent recently whose child became physically ill on the day of testing.
“We still need standards. We still want standards,” Stovall said, but he said a group needs to be established to revise them and get input from educators.
He said after the news conference that he wants to see a bipartisan task force with lawmakers, representation from the Virginia Department of Education and educators examine SOLs.
Recently some education officials in the Roanoke Valley have discussed whether such rigorous testing has emphasized the “drill and kill” mentality in place of critical thinking skills.
In recent years there have been changes to the SOL tests, focusing on increased rigor and higher-level thinking and moving away from the traditional multiple choice questions.
Virginia teachers also are encouraged to participate in the development of SOL tests, according to the state Department of Education. Educators may serve on committees, which review test items for fairness and accuracy in measuring what students know.
Edwards, who noted he’s been critical of SOLs since their inception in the 1990s, said they crowd out electives and focus on memorization. He also said too much has become tied to passing the tests and students are tested too much.
“You don’t fatten a hog by just weighing it every day,” he said.
He added students should be tested periodically to let teachers know where students stand. When asked about accountability, Edwards said the focus should first be on resources for school systems.
Edwards, who was reached by phone, was not at Wednesday’s news conference organized by Freeda Cathcart, a Roanoke Democrat who is challenging Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt County.
Cathcart said she wants people to look beyond the numbers to see how the frequent testing affects students. She also said she’s opposed to the way SOL results are used to punish teachers, saying they could be useful but should not be used punitively. Like Chewning she said teachers should be allowed to teach.
When reached by phone for comment, Head said he is not opposed to changes and that there’s work already being done by the House leadership to review tests. He said changes should look at how much progress students make and be considered with educators. Officials need to look at modifications, he said, but not abandon the system of accountability.
“From time to time, your measuring stick needs to change,” he said.
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