Gaming the SOLs: Roanoke Edition

Roanoke School Superintendent Rita Bishop

Virginia allows elementary and middle school students to retake their Standards of Learning exams if they narrowly miss passing or have other extenuating circumstances. In the eyes of Roanoke Superintendent Rita Bishop, almost every excuse that crossed her desk apparently qualifies as an extenuating circumstance.

Bishop approved all but 19 of 470 requests this year to retest elementary and middle school students, according to documents obtained by the Roanoke Times under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Among the qualifying circumstances: students forgetting their glasses, witnessing or experiencing trauma at home, or having test anxiety ranging from sweating to vomiting. The test re-takes came with additional tutoring. 

“I care about these kids deeply,” Bishop told the Times. “If anybody thinks that what was done was in any war harmful, what we did was we made kids believe in themselves.”

What the Roanoke school district also did was improve the accreditation ratings of its schools. Writes the Times:

Most of the students who retested attended schools whose accreditation appeared at risk. At those schools, once internal reporting showed enough of the retested students had passed, testing stopped.

When the state announced school accreditation ratings this month, Roanoke had earned full accreditation for all but one of its schools and made enough improvement at the remaining school to keep its partial accreditation status.

It’s the district’s highest achievement since the 2012-13 school year. …

Current and former Roanoke district educators said there was so much pressure from central office to retest students that the forms to request a do-over felt like a rote exercise with approval all but certain.

They claim when teachers refused to fill out requests, central office staff did so despite the teachers’ objections. Other times, they said, teachers weren’t consulted or even told their students would be retested.

Bacon’s bottom line: Do I even need to add a bottom line? The story speaks for itself. (Hat tip: John Butcher)

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5 responses to “Gaming the SOLs: Roanoke Edition

  1. I continue to be troubled by the way this issue is being blogged…

    I’m all in for transparency – and accountability but less enamored for the way it’s being used to essentially hit and run selected /targeted schools…and systems… in such a way that it feels like just trying to demean them and drag them down like they are bad guys that have been hiding and we’ve now uncovered the rock the have been hiding under.

    The SOLs are high-stake tests – that are feared and detested by just about everyone that is affected by them – in no small part – because as little as one kid having a bad day on one test can tar the entire’s teachers.. and principal and Administrators..

    and that’s why I do ask here why don’t we put a focus on Henrico while we’re at it because it is where our esteemed B;ogmaster lives himself – and it demonstrates that a school system that has some of the best schools in the State – also, has some of the worst… Can it be bad Administration? bad principals or teachers? Gaming the SOLs? what?

    So.. yes.. ALL SCHOOLS do want to make sure that is the kid actually does know the material that he/she does get a good test result.. You cannot – or should not blame the schools for wanting to do that much less impugn them for wanting to do it. That’s just whacking on people for no good purpose in my view.

    Teaching is a tough field – in a lot of ways because there are so many ways a child can – not learn – not want to learn.. and yet every day in the classroom is like a conveyor belt that keeps moving.. no matter how many kids have not had good days… and yet the teacher is held accountable for ALL of it… in one high stakes test that is really testing a LOT MORE than just the performance of the teacher – and this is well known because the very same teachers that do fine in a middle-income neighborhood school can get eaten alive in a low-income neighborhood school.. ergo – good teachers don’t go to bad schools…. to have their careers ended..

    I don’t see the point of what Butcher is really doing other than dinging as many schools as he can by unearthing as much dirt as he can dig… without often, if ever – any follow-on commentary about the nature of the problems or how to do better.

    I would assert that if you take the same SOL accountability system and put it on private school, non-public schools ..would-be competitors that you’d get no better outcome. And yet what is the solution? Do close administrators ..teachers?

    Changes are going on in the world of testing.. to get away from single one-day high stakes testing and move to a “sampling” assessment model.. where kids may not even know they are being “tested” – because it’s done in the normal course of their day… and it’s done multiple times over the year so that one bad day does not result in a bad outcome for the whole year.

    We should support this and we should understand and realize that the current high-stakes testing is not a good thing.. to start with – and to focus on it as a way to play a game of shooting-gallery on whatever hapless school gets targeted next… is just not productive.

    Folks who fancy themselves as “watchdogs” do have a responsibility to combine their efforts of exposing problems – with commentary on where we should go next… how to get better..

    These days, these constant drumbeat of ” and here is another “failure” of govt”.. is like some kind of blood sport.. where victims are lined up to burned at the virtual internet stake…

    We want to expose the problems.. them fix them.. it’s a two-part thing…

    we already have plenty of “shooters”…

  2. Gee, such a different tone than you took responding to the positive report on improvements to the delinquent fine collections system…..a government good news story you dumped on with glee.

    Hey, nothing I read indicated this was breaking the rules. Nobody is alleged to have taken the test for the student, or to have reviewed the test taker’s answers one by one. If you put this much emphasis on the tests and accreditation, if it is make or break for a school system and its leaders, who is surprised the extra effort will be focused on the test? The one damning element is the indication that once they got the successful retests they needed, they didn’t give other students a chance to test again. That makes one skeptical of claims this is all about the students…..

  3. The thing about the “fines” issue is that it actually is part of the cause of our failing schools issue… as well as unemployment and the needs for entitlements.

    If we came up with the opposite of economic development – “anti” economic development that would take jobs away – this is how you would do it – with all the attendant economic harm that would accompany it… unemployed people, families breaking apart.. mom and kids having to get public assistance and end up in poverty neighborhoods with the kinds of neighborhood schools you find in those low income neighborhoods…etc..

    This is as stupid a policy as one could invent… to harm people – harm kids.. and harm taxpayers.. and it’s either on purpose as some ignorant attitudes towards the poor and people of color or it’s even worse – an unintended consequences that just about any addle-brained person could see clearly upon a cursory look.

    The point here is that you look at these things like the delinquent fine issue as well as the SOL issue not in terms of some ignorant perceived morality.. but rather what is the impact of the sanctions –
    on outcomes…

    We ought not to have a system that actually sends people spiraling into even worse circumstances as a result of “accountability”.

    We’re not talking about ax murders here.. we’re talking about teachers… the vast majority of which work their backsides off trying to educate kids… and we’re designing a system that basically hunts them down and harms them if they don’t do “right”.. even if they do “right” for most kids.. if they don’t do “right” for all kids.. we stick them good… so what do they do?

    The problem with the way that Bacon and Cranky go after these schools is that there is no motivation for a better outcome.. just going after people and harming them… which.. unsurprisingly is the same thing with the delinquent fines issue and actually there are some similarities..

    Neither of these have any real longer term outlook – if they did -they’d see the harm that results from the “hold them accountable” logic.

    You want accountability – that leads to better outcomes – not “accountability” that leads to more harm and more failures.

    I know that is a difficult concept for some folks.. but it’s the simple truth.

    • Larry, You may be the only person in the world who thinks that you’ll get more accountability from schools by ignoring the way they game the SOL rules. As long as they can game the rules, what’s the motivation to do a better job of teaching kids?

      • I don’t see making sure you did properly assess the kids knowledge – as “gaming” the system. You ask anyone who teaches for a living how kids do on tests and you’ll find that it varies by kid and by what things are going on with them at that time in their life.. and they may well screw up on that test when they really did know the material – which is totally frustrating to the teacher… as well as a threat to his/her job… one kid can cause a failed accreditation…

        VDOE is changing the way they test the SOLs… How about you go find out and report on that and give a view as to whether you think that new approach is also “gaming”.

        You and Cranky are a little like Accountability Gunslingers.. if they twitch- blow em away…


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