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Posted at 12:22 PM ET, 06/02/2011

Trashing Virginia’s Standards of Learning

A heavyweight group of Virginia school superintendents won’t directly say they are trying to trash the Standards of Learning, but that’s effectively what they seem to be up to.

Spearheaded by Fairfax Schools chief Jack Dale, the group is trying to get the state to allow students to take the dreaded SOLS anytime during the school year, which would be a change from the currently scheduled end-of-year exam schedule.

They want to do this, according to this story by my colleague Kevin Sieff, so that they can offer kids who pass the exams early in the year more thoughtful, hands-on classes. Dale told Sieff: “Our students are bored because they’re not doing the hands-on kind of learning that they’re great at.”

If that’s not an indictment of the SOL-dominated school curriculum in the state, tell me what is.

What’s more, Dale told a group of reporters and editors at The Post on Wednesday that many superintendents outside the Group of 5 (which, along with Fairfax, includes the superintendents of school systems in Virginia Beach, Henrico, Albemarle and Roanoke) are on board, too.

Who isn’t? The longtime state superintendent, Patricia Wright, who was instrumental in the creation and implementation of the Standards of Learning regime and is clearly reluctant to end it in favor of what the superintendents want: a more modern curriculum that involves performance- and project-based learning units starting at elementary and middle schools, with new assessments.

Dale said he thought it was “a mistake” for Virginia not to sign on to the Common Core Standards, a set of math and language arts standards recently developed and agreed upon by most states across the country. Virginia is conspicuously not one of them.

So with the state clinging to the SOLS, the Group of 5 is asking for permission to allow students to take SOLS in the first semester, with more opportunities later in the year for students who do not pass. Those students who pass early can then move into newly designed coursework that the superintendents say would provide deeper learning opportunities.

It remains to be seen what Wright will allow.

The move by the superintendents is an indictment of the country’s test-based school reform movement, in which Virginia was a leader when it implemented the SOLs in 1998. The superintendents are saying that attaching high stakes to standardized test results has led to narrowed curriculum and in some cases rote learning, and they want to take a new approach to teaching and learning.

This thinking actually bucks the current reforms sweeping the country, which are resulting in the creation in many places of more standardized tests — in every subject — so teachers can be evaluated in part by the results.

A report issued last week by the National Research Council (the research arm of the National Academies, which includes the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine) looked at the last decade of test-based school reforms and found them to be largely unproductive in generating increased student achievement.

Dale said he’s long believed what the researchers concluded. It’s too bad the people who make the policies don’t.

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By  |  12:22 PM ET, 06/02/2011

 
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