SOLs scores in, news mixed

The SOL scores are in, and in Charlottesville the news is mixed. On the bright side: the school division itself made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for the first time, as did Buford Middle and Walker Upper Elementary schools.

On the downside: neither Charlottesville High School nor Clark Elementary made AYP, a benchmark set by the federal government that requires schools to show improvement in subjects and in various groups of students. For Clark, which had to offer its students a choice of other city schools after it failed to make AYP in 2003-2004 and 2004-2005, the news is particularly disappointing. When a school receives Title I funds from the federal government– as every city elementary except Venable does– failure to make AYP is a frightening development, since the government will pull those funds after repeated failures.

But, according to assistant superintendent Gertrude Ivory, the little Belmont elementary school won't face sanctions again unless it fails to make AYP a second year in a row.


As the parent of a current fourth grade student, I've found the entire experience with the SOLs to be frustrating and confusing. The students took these tests in April or May and the schools have been tight-lipped about the results. I called numerous times during the summer to find out results, there were none. During registration, I once again asked and was told they didn't have the ¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??adjusted¢Ã¢â??¬ scores. What the heck is going on? Why all the secrecy?

I also fear that the tests have taken over the educational system. Teachers are teaching to the test. I personally believe AYP is part of a Republican agenda to stop funding public education. What happened to the radical idea that creativity is an important part of education. In the current educational system we're moving away from teaching authentic problem solving skills into a time were our children are taught to regurgitate data like little test taking monkeys. After all this secrecy, I'm giving more consideration to home-schooling.

Nobody is trying to hide anything. It takes a long time to score the tests. They told you they didn't have them and they don't, but they will and the scores will be available when the state Department of Education is finished scoring them. The local school system does not score the tests.

The Standards of Learning lists information that a student in Virginia's public schools is expected to learn in each grade. There were Standards of Learning before the tests were adopted as an assessment tool. Teachers are expected to teach their students this information. The tests are given to determine how well the students have learned this information. The teachers do not have access to the test. They can't teach to the test if they don't have the test. They teach the Standards and then the tests are given to determine if the students have learned the information. The Standards of Learning do not mandate any specific teaching method. Schools and parents can, and do use different methods. Learning the facts can be fun and methods can be adopted that encourage childrens creativity and critical thinking. Knowledge of math, science, history and language are critical for success today. Knowledge can be taught and is being taught quite successfully in homes and schools using the Standards of Learning as a guide.

My children are home schooled and so I have some experience with other home school parents and children. One of the several methods that the state accepts for the assessment of home school children is testing using a nationally normed standardized test that the parents purchase. These tests may have nothing to do with the curriculum that the parent has used. If a home school student fails the assessment test they can be required to attend school or they may be granted a one year probation.The details of a home school curriculum do not have to be approved by the local school system. The tests may include information that the parents did not teach. Some parents cheat by reading the tests before giving them and then they teach to the test. Fortunately the cheaters are a small minority.

If you do decide to home school please do it because you want to teach your children and not because you want to make a political statement. Parents who do decide to home school should be prepared to deal with the laws that are designed to ensure that their children receive an adequate education.
Home schooling is challenging and a huge responsibility. I don't believe that home schooling is for most people and I do believe we need strong, well funded public schools.

Thanks for taking the time, Fun, to explain in such depth. It's interesting that I had to remind a veteran teacher just this summer that the SOLs existed long before SOL testing. She had not heard of the Virginia Standards of Quality either, although school staff was given a copy of each document at the beginning of each school year in the Cville public schools where I taught beginning in 1972. Most likely she has no recollection because she ignored them. I remember telling her also that I have noticed the teachers who do the most complaining about "teaching to the test" are those that would use "art day" and "reading silently day" and "movie day" and "crafts day" and "pizza-making day" and, yes, even "free day" throughout their careers when they didn't want to teach for whatever reason. They often referred to these methods as "being creative."
I especially appreciate your information on home schooling. It must require a great deal of planning time for that endeavor.

I think both "Fun" and "C'ville Eye" are misinformed about the nature of the SOLs. There were, indeed, state standards before the current set of SOLs, and those standards in most subjects were legitmate content standards. The current standards, which came out of the Allen administration, are far more specific and knowledge-based. While the SOLs do not mandate any teaching methodology, since they emphasize factual information, and since they can and do cover trivial details, and since they can cover the entire gamut of any particular course (for example, all of U.S. History) most teachers feel that they have to resort to direct instruction and drill so that students will pass the tests. Moreover, most schools engage in SOL-test preparation for one or even two weeks prior to the SOL testing. It's worse in less affluent schools. "Fun" says that teachers do not have access to the SOL tests.
They don't, but they do have access to past SOL tests questions, to SOL prep booklets and to sample SOL tests prepared by for-profit vendors and by school systems/teachers. SInce schools have to achieve annual yealry progress on SOL tests to meet No Child Left Behiind mandates, and since teacher names are reported to schools on SOL tests, what do you think most teachers will do?? While good, confident teachers may still emphasize critical thinking, most are not going to engage in creative lessons and units that take time and that do not cover all the "important" material.

No Child Left Behind (a Bush administration priority that has funneled billions to the private sector) is punitive legislation that can inflict real (and harsh) penalties on schools and school systems for not achieving "learning" that is of dubious value.

SOLs and No Child Left Behind are not helping American public education, they are undermining it.