Charlottesville School Board Chair Juandiego Wade called for SOL reform during a press conference in December

If Delegates Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria) and Thomas A. “Tag” Greason (R-Loudoun) get their way, Charlottesville and Albemarle students might be taking fewer Standards of Learning exams in the coming years.

The pair has introduced House Bill 498, which proposes dropping the total number of SOL tests across the Commonwealth from 34 to 26, and permitting local school divisions to use end-of-year tests other than the SOL for some subject areas.

The reduction in tests would appear mostly at the elementary and middle school levels, and would focus the remaining exams on reading and mathematics.

The proposed model slims the testing load to:

Among other subject tests, the bill proposes eliminating science and history from grade three; Virginia studies from grade four; US history from grades five and six; and earth science, geometry, and world geography from grades nine through twelve.

Both Albemarle and Charlottesville school officials said they applaud the proposed reduction.

“The Board is supportive of reducing the number of SOL tests, especially for the younger students,” Albemarle School Board Chair Ned Gallaway said. “Hours-long, high stakes tests for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders are not helpful, fair, or proper in regard to how Albemarle County believes students should be educated and assessed.” 

“I don’t know what the magic number is, but I do support the legislation and agree that this is a step in the right direction,” Charlottesville School Board Chair Juandiego Wade said. “The tests are cumbersome for teachers, students, and parents.”

The legislation also states that, if adopted, the Virginia Board of Education will create plans for divisions that want to implement assessments other than the SOL tests for history, science, and social science exams.

Local school divisions would still have to report test results to the state for accountability purposes.

Albemarle’s Legislative and Public Affairs Officer Nicole Storm said waivers for English and math SOLs would not be granted because those tests are federally mandated under No Child Left Behind.

At the high school level, Albemarle has already begun piloting the College and Workforce Readiness Assessment, which is a project-based test that measures a student’s ability to think critically about real-world situations.

Additionally, Charlottesville has opened the Buford Engineering Design Academy at Buford Middle School. The academy provides students the opportunity to learn science concepts through advanced manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing.

Wade said the Board hasn’t discussed specific alternative assessments, but has discussed changing how the division assesses student learning.

Ultimately, Wade said, the Board supports giving local school divisions more control.

“Some divisions are in need of support, but I think that, if given the opportunity, most could develop an assessment that the state would be satisfied with.”

Administered by the Virginia Department of Education, the SOLs fall into two categories: the curriculum that lists what students should know after completing each grade, and exams that start in third grade and continue through high school.

The end-of-year SOL exams are in English reading and writing, science, math, and history/social studies.

Albemarle County students’ reading pass rate fell from 90 percent in 2012 to 78 percent in 2013, while their writing pass rate dipped from 91 to 82 percent.

Among Charlottesville students, reading pass rates dropped from 86 percent in 2012 to 71 percent in 2013, and writing from 81 to 68 percent.

Albemarle’s science pass rates declined from 91 percent in 2012 to 84 percent in 2013, and 88 to 76 percent in Charlottesville.

State and local education officials said the drops were expected, due to changes in the tests’ format and difficulty. Many of the tests now feature technology-enhanced questions, and questions that have more than one correct answer—all of which must be selected in order to earn credit.

Scores in history and math remained level in both divisions.

In 2013, Charlottesville and Albemarle were among approximately 60 school divisions throughout Virginia to adopt an anti-SOL resolution.

“The Albemarle County School Board is supportive of SOL reform—from a reduction of required tests to the allowance of alternative assessments—however, the board also believes in good process when it comes to decisions that will impact the education of our children,” Gallaway said. 

“Deliberate and well-considered SOL reform—with input from school divisions as to how all the proposed revisions will impact students—is proper process,” Gallaway added.

The bill goes before the House Subcommittee on Education Reform on Tuesday, January 28 in Richmond.