The Truth About the SOLs

The Virginia Board of Education says that:

The SOL program will improve public education by holding everyone to high standards through high-stakes testing.

TRUTH: It is a common, but untrue, assumption that high-stakes testing produces improved learning and student achievement. Test scores rise, in large part, because of more focus on expected test content and more familiarity with the tests. The SOL program will narrow instruction and undermine education quality as teachers are forced to teach to the tests and short-change the rest of the curriculum simply to raise test scores. Low-income, minority, limited English, and special needs students are especially subject to getting drill and test practice instead of rich and varied education programs. They are at higher risk of being denied diplomas or dropping out in frustration before reaching12th grade. High standards cannot be maintained and education improved for all simply by raising the stakes for students.

2. SOL test scores are the single best measure of students' and schools'performance and should be the primary criteria for graduation and accreditation.

TRUTH: NO single standardized test can fully and accurately measure student achievement. Multiple choice tests cannot truly assess critical thinking, problem solving, and application skills they way essay questions and performance tests do. NO single test should be used to make major education decisions about children or their schools. National professional standards for test use and recommendations of the National Academy of Sciencesoppose using standardized tests as barriers to placement, promotion, or graduation. Such decisions should instead be based on all relevant information, including grades and teacher recommendations. Comprehensive, accurate assessment of students and schools requires reviewing a broad range of information reflecting their complete records and achievement over time, not just test results.

3. The SOL and SOL testing are appropriate and fair for all students.

TRUTH: The SOL program ignores differences in students'learning styles, abilities, English proficiency, and motivation, parents' education and income levels, degree of involvement in their children's education and support for learning, and community resources. Student achievement and test performance have repeatedly been shown to be strongly related to such factors, and denying differences in them is unrealistic and unfair. Measuring achievement and success only or mostly by standardized test scores will disproportionately hurt students who are at risk. It will inappropriately hold students and schools responsible for things beyond their control Students who do not perform well on standardized multiple-choice tests will have no opportunity to show their knowledge and skills in other ways. For all students, assessments based on real work, such as essays, projects, and other classroom assignments, give more useful and accurate information than standardized tests alone.

4. The SOL are valid, reliable, and fair according to independent testing experts.

TRUTH: The state's own validity and reliability report suggests that SOL test scores should not be used as barriers to graduation or accreditation. One of its own experts said the scores are one source of evidence of students' SOL knowledge and skills, and that "it would be invalid to make inferences about schools or teacher effectiveness solely on the basis of these scores." Further, the SOL tests were not adequately field tested before real testing began in Spring 1998. Additionally, the passing or 'cut' scores set by the Board of Education did not reflect the consensus of the standard-setting committees' recommendations and did not take real test performance data into account, contrary to preferred professional practice and the state's testing contract.

5. The SOLs set reasonable targets for essential knowledge and skills all teachers must teach and students must learn.

TRUTH: The SOLs do not define what is indisputably essential for all children to learn. Many school systems are resorting to after-school and Saturday classes to try to cover the excessive number and content of the standards. Teachers and students report feeling rushed to cover the mandated material with little time for questions, discussions, or in-depth inquiry into particular topics, or for addressing any topic not included in the SOL. Educators have noted that many individual standards could make up an entire college survey course, while other standards are developmentally inappropriate for the grade levels in question. Many test items look more like Trivial Pursuit factoids than essentials. Further, the Social Studies, and to a lesser extent the English, standards do not reflect the consensus of the broad-based groups of educators and others appointed to draft the SOL, but of a few Board members who largely rewrote the drafts to reflect their own views of what should and should not be taught.

6. The State knows what is best for our children's education.

TRUTH: The Virginia Board of Education, with the General Assembly's acquiescence thus far, has grasped centralized control of the precise content, depth, and timing of our children's curriculum and assessment of their achievement. In doing so, they have stripped localities of the ability to use their professional teaching staffs and specialists, along with parental and community input, to make such decisions. Attention and resources have been diverted from real education reforms such as smaller classes, integrated curriculum, better teacher training, use of known best teaching and assessment practices, up to date facilities, and more equitable funding across the state.