An article in yesterday's Metro section incorrectly reported some results of the Virginia Standards of Learning tests. The percentage of schools meeting the state's benchmarks on the tests was 3 percent in 1998 and 7 percent this year. Student passing rates on each of the 27 exams ranged from 30 percent to 72 percent in 1998 and from 32 percent to 81 percent this year. (Published 10/20/1999)

Virginia education officials yesterday rejected a request by the Fairfax County Council of PTAs that the state release all questions from the Standards of Learning exams given to students statewide over the past two years, but said they will release hundreds of questions that they don't intend to use again.

State officials, who will release selected questions from tests given in 1998, said that publicizing the complete exams would compromise the security of future tests because many questions are reused.

The PTAs council had filed a request for the test questions under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, arguing that the public is entitled to see the content of the high-stakes exams. But state officials cited a provision of the law allowing withholding of documents that would jeopardize the security of student performance tests.

"Consequently, we are exercising our discretion under the statute to not release the remaining SOL test questions that are covered by the above exemption and others," wrote Paul D. Stapleton, state superintendent of public instruction.

Council members interpret the law differently. They cited another passage that states that "minimum competency tests" given to students should be made available within six months of releasing the scores.

"They say that they have discretion, but I don't see any discretion in the way the law is written. It seems pretty straightforward and clear," said Edwin Darden, chairman of the council's education committee. "It sounds to me like they're trying to wiggle out of it."

Council President Rosemary Lynch said she will discuss the group's options with her board members and attorney.

"We haven't decided which way we are going to go, but we will be pursuing this," said Lynch.

The 27 Standards of Learning exams are given to public school students in grades three, five and eight and in high school. Beginning with the Class of 2004, students must pass the high school exams to graduate. By 2007, schools where fewer than 70 percent of students pass the tests risk losing their accreditation.

In 1998, the first year the exams were given, 3 percent of students met the state standards. About 7 percent of students passed the tests given last spring. The council has been an outspoken critic of the testing program, and many parents and educators say the poor results raise doubts about the tests' credibility.

State officials said they intend to release some of the full tests after the state has a large enough pool of new questions. Officials pointed out that they have released sample questions and "blueprints" to give teachers an idea of what the tests cover.

"Our intent has always been to make this a very public process and we are trying to do that," said Cameron Harris, assistant superintendent for assessment and reporting.