by James A. Bacon
A key goal of administering the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests to Virginia public school students is to give educators and citizens objective metrics by which to measure how effective a job different schools and school districts are doing, and to hold them accountable for results. In the 2014-2015 school year, the Virginia Board of Education allowed schools who failed tests “by narrow margins or because of extenuating circumstances” to retake the tests. When SOL test scores showed significant improvement that year, some citizens justifiably wondered if the new policy was a significant factor.
Reader Jim Weigand, a Lynchburg resident, asked the Lynchburg school system for some basic data: How many students retook the SOLs, what percentage passed as a result of retaking the tests, and what were the pass rates before the tests were retaken?
The letter above shows the answer: “The school division does not have that data nor do we have reports that will generate that data.”
I find that admission to be extraordinary. How difficult would it have been to track that data?
For all practical purposes, any comparison between the 2013-2014 and the 2014-2015 school year are meaningless. I made that point in a blog post at the time (and that was before I learned that students were allowed to opt out of taking the tests, another factor that could have skewed results) but I assumed that the data on test retaking resided deep in the bowels of the educational bureaucracy should someone take the initiative to ask for it.
I was wrong. Weigand asked and Lynchburg did not collect the data. It is not unreasonable to ask if any school system collected the data.
Bacon’s bottom line: Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples trumpeted the higher 2014-2015 SOL scores in a press release: “Virginia teachers and students are adapting to the more rigorous standards implemented by the state Board of Education several years ago. The positive trend lines confirm that meeting these new standards is possible, although it will take time for schools to complete the adjustment.”
Given what we now know about test retakings and test opt-outs, citizens have legitimate grounds for questioning whether any improvement took place at all.
It’s almost as if Virginia’s educational leaders were less interested in improving educational performance and more interested giving the appearance of improved performance. But, no, surely such a thing is not possible. Not in Virginia.There are currently no comments highlighted.