Va. social studies teachers request more time to develop new tests

Virginia social studies teachers are requesting more time to roll out new assessments meant to replace Standards of Learning tests.

Cathy Hix, president of the Virginia Consortium of Social Studies Specialists and College Educators, sent a letter to the state Board of Education requesting a one-year delay so they can develop the new tests and train teachers.

“Our organization stands ready to help the state and its teachers address these new measures, but we do need time to get the work done,” said the association’s past president Bill Brazier in an e-mail to The Washington Post this week.

New alternative tests are required because of an SOL reform law passed by the General Assembly this year that reduced the number of tests Virginia students are required to take from 22 to 17. Three of the eliminated tests are social studies tests.

The social studies teachers’ group endorsed the reform legislation, and its leaders are enthusiastic about the potential for alternative assessments to provide a more accurate measure of what students know and how they are thinking about key concepts.

But many are concerned about the lack of state funding to support the transition, as well as the rapid turnaround. The law is scheduled to go into effect July 1. A budget amendment would have directed $2.9 million in cost savings associated with eliminating tests to help districts develop new assessments failed.

A curriculum committee for the association has designed some sample performance assessment tasks and developed suggestions for how the curriculum should be changed to emphasize thinking and problem-solving skills, Brazier said. And teachers have begun to organize regional meetings to design performance assessments that they can share with their colleagues across the state.

Social studies teachers are already developing new tests, Brazier said; they just need more time.

The law calls on districts to develop “authentic performance assessments.”

Such an authentic assessment could be an essay, speech or project. It also could be a collection of academic work over time.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in Northern Virginia.
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