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Class of '07 Faces a Range of Tests

Last year's seniors, such as these from Robinson Secondary, could choose disciplines for their Standards of Learning tests. The state now requires a broad range of SOLs of its seniors.
Last year's seniors, such as these from Robinson Secondary, could choose disciplines for their Standards of Learning tests. The state now requires a broad range of SOLs of its seniors. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

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By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 21, 2007

As the school year approaches its midpoint, Virginia education officials are reminding students in the Class of 2007 that they are the first required to pass a broad range of the state's Standards of Learning exams if they want to graduate with a standard diploma.

Previous classes could graduate from Virginia high schools by passing six SOL exams mostly of their choosing, even if those tests were in the same discipline. Starting with this year's seniors, students must pass at least one SOL in history, science and math, as well as two in English. Students also must pass a sixth SOL that they can choose from any discipline.

School systems have known about the regulations since at least 2000, when the state Board of Education approved them. But state Department of Education officials said they distributed more than 389,000 brochures to local schools this month that explain the requirements so students and parents can easily understand them. The brochures can be downloaded at http://www.doe.virginia.gov.

Some students, such as those in career courses or those who speak limited English, are still allowed to graduate if they take other state-approved exams comparable to the SOLs, department spokesman Charles Pyle said.

State school officials said the new requirements should not be difficult. They said statewide data indicate growing numbers of Virginia students are seeking out more rigorous high school courses, and they cite a rise in students who pursue advanced diplomas. Such diplomas require students to pass nine SOL exams.

"What we've seen over the last three years is when you raise standards, students will rise to the occasion," Pyle said. "Not only have we seen increases in the number of students getting advanced diplomas, but we're seen a tremendous growth in numbers of students taking Advanced Placement courses."

Patrick Stalcup, 15, a freshman at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, said he and his friends at the regional magnet school in Fairfax County have no problem with the new requirements.

"I know that some people are only good at math and they don't [consider] other subjects," he said. "This might make them realize that they can do those well, too."

Stalcup added that, at top high schools, passing SOLs is not considered a burden, nor is it something students view with the same level of anxiety as, say, AP exams or SATs -- tests used for determining whether they get college credit and admission to elite universities.

"The SOLs are not looked at too seriously here," he said. "It's kind of like, they're annoying. They take a long time."

School officials who oversee high school counselors said they have not heard of any students complaining about the regulations, in part because students had been warned about the change.

In Loudoun County, students in danger of not receiving enough credits to graduate are given multiple notices and are put in remediation classes if they falter on practice exams or in their coursework, said K. Anne Lewis, the school system's director of student services.

The new regulations were set in motion in the late 1990s, when the Virginia Board of Education decided that the Class of 2004 would be the first required to pass SOL exams to graduate. But those seniors and their successors in the classes of 2005 and 2006 were given substantial flexibility in which SOL exams they would take.

Pyle said the board reasoned that many of those students could have been ill-prepared to take a wide array of exams. Board members, Pyle said, believed that some school systems had not yet fully aligned classroom instruction to new state standards, potentially posing a disadvantage to the classes of 2004 through 2006.

Board members thought that allowing students in those years to take four SOLs of their choosing -- in addition to two English SOLs -- would be fair, Pyle said.


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