The educator who helped inspire the Standards of Learning tests taken by Virginia's public school students is urging that the state provide more support to teachers in rural areas struggling with the program.
E.D. Hirsch, a University of Virginia professor, said that when he visited Southwest Virginia recently, school superintendents told him that their teachers need more training and more books to prepare their students for the SOL exams. The tests, which cover basic subjects, have been administered for the last two school years.
"I don't want to sound like a Monday-morning quarterback," Hirsch said in an interview this week, "but I do think that it is important to have very explicit, very focused, very doable materials for the teachers, and it would be very useful to have books for students that supported these objectives."
Hirsch said he could not say whether the problem extends to other areas of the state because he has not spoken with educators in other regions.
An Associated Press story said Hirsch wanted the state to lower the stakes of the SOL tests until the problems are fixed. Hirsch said that his comments were misunderstood and that he supports the state's timetable for the program. Beginning in 2004, only seniors who have passed six SOL tests will receive diplomas, and by 2007, schools where more than 30 percent of students have failed the tests risk losing their accreditation.
Hirsch, author of the book "Cultural Literacy," has long argued that all children should have a common base of knowledge. Those views influenced the Virginia Board of Education as it drew up the SOL program, which tests whether students have mastered a fact-rich curriculum.
Hirsch said he is strongly opposed to parents and teachers who want to scrap the SOLs. "I am a friend of the SOLs," he said.
Kirk T. Schroder, the president of the Virginia Board of Education, said he had talked to Hirsch and told him the state was offering more assistance to school districts. "I think we are getting there," Schroder said.
Hirsch's comments come at a time of growing anxiety about the SOL program. Thirteen school superintendents in southwest Virginia recently asked the state to consider reducing the impact of the SOL tests on graduation and accreditation. Membership in the grass-roots group Parents Across Virginia United to Reform SOLs has grown to 2,200, and several PTA officials have asked for revisions in the system.
The state school board has scheduled public hearings for Tuesday, including one at 7 p.m. at Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge, to discuss the board's recommendations for changes in the program. Among other things, the board has proposed providing leeway to schools that are still short of the state's performance targets in 2007 but are getting close to the benchmarks.