The president of the Virginia Board of Education asked the leaders of seven state education groups yesterday to back up their complaints about new statewide achievement tests with specific recommendations for change.
At a series of public hearings last week, the seven organizations--which represent superintendents, principals, teachers, parents and school counselors--criticized the board's plans to rely solely on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests to determine which students graduate from high school and which schools are accredited.
Board President Kirk T. Schroder has responded by faxing a letter to each of the groups, asking them to explain what other criteria they would use to make those decisions.
Schroder's letter said he wanted to enter into a "constructive dialogue" with the organizations. But in interviews yesterday, both Schroder and board member Mark C. Christie said they will not give in to demands from some parent and teacher groups that schools use student grades and teacher evaluations to determine who gets a high school diploma.
In essence, that would mean retaining the current system, Christie said.
"That is like saying that everything is just fine. But when one out of every three students cannot pass a sixth-grade literacy test, everything is not fine," said Christie, referring to the percentage of sixth-graders who failed the state's Literacy Passport Test. That test was replaced two years ago by the SOL exams, which are given to students in grades 3, 5 and 8 and in high school.
Starting in 2004, any student who hasn't passed the high school SOL tests in English, math, social studies and science will not graduate, according to board rules. By 2007, any school where fewer than 70 percent of the students have passed the tests will lose its state accreditation.
At last week's hearings, several school officials, teachers and parents said the graduation decision should also be based on how well students perform on classroom assignments.
"If you wish to use measures of student achievement that are determined by educators within the school system itself, please explain how these measurements may be verified independently of the school system so that we can be confident about the student's achievement levels," Schroder said in his letter.
Schroder noted that the board already has proposed to accept Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test results as a substitute for the SOLs. Christie said the board also might consider other rigorous, independently administered tests such as the SAT II achievement tests.
Schroder's letter went to the presidents of the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals, the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals, the Virginia Congress of Parents and Teachers, the Virginia School Counselor Association, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, the Virginia Counselors Association and the Virginia Education Association.
Sue Glasco, president of the Virginia Congress of Parents and Teachers, said that she was glad Schroder responded to the concerns and that she would send him the specifics he asked for after consulting with her group. "We just think there is too much emphasis on the SOL test scores," she said.
Allen Flanigan, an Alexandria parent active in the group Parents Across Virginia United to Reform the SOLs, said Schroder's letter and comments showed he has not listened to the parents and teachers who criticized the new system at last week's hearings.