Va. GOP lawmakers to focus on SOL reform in 2014

Republican lawmakers in Virginia announced Monday they intend to make reforming the state’s Standards of Learning tests a key part of their legislative agenda in 2014.

Virginia students currently take 34 standardized tests between third grade and graduation, said Del. Tag Greason (R-Loudoun). “That’s a lot to ask from our students,” he said.

He also said legislators are devising a plan that would reduce the number of SOL tests and improve them so they emphasize more problem solving skills and less rote memorization.

“We expect them to do and perform on our standardized tests in a very rigid way,” Greason said. “We think there’s a better way.”

Greason’s call for “SOL [version] 2.0” was made at a news conference at the Virginia Association of School Superintendents annual legislative meeting in Charlottesville.

Parents, teachers and school leaders around the country have been clamoring for changes to increasing testing mandates. While most states have adopted a national approach to learning standards known as the Common Core, Virginia chose to hold on to its own system of standards and tests that it has developed over two decades. But many of the same debates swirling around the implementation of the Common Core — about what students should be learning and the role tests should play in schools — are also taking place in Virginia.

Greason said one possible way to improve state tests would be through computerized adaptive testing, which offer students different questions depending on how they are performing. Such tests can give more individualized results, he said.

In addition to testing reform, the Republican lawmakers over the coming year hope to expand virtual learning programs and develop career ladders to help teachers stay in the classroom, Greason said.

House Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R) highlighted some legislative achievements from the previous year, including approving a 2 percent pay raise for teachers, creating a pilot program for strategic compensation incentives, and reforming teacher contracts.

Cox said that last year was dubbed “the Year of the Teacher” by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. This year, the focus will be “the kids in the classroom,” he said.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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