Where in the Virginia Department of Education is the Kids’ Interests Division (KID)?

by James C. Sherlock

James Lane
Superintendent of Public Instruction

There have been two iterations of relaxation of Virginia SOL rules issued so far this school year by the Department of Education.  They offer perfect roadmaps to the future under the current leadership of that Department.

School Accreditation Waived and Refusal to Take SOLs Authorized

The first step was potentially the most consequential. On November 6, 2020, the Superintendent of Pubic Instruction issued the following memorandum:

SUBJECT:  Additional Details regarding Standards of Learning (SOL) Testing in 2020-2021:

“The purpose of this memo is to share additional details regarding Standards of Learning (SOL) testing in the 2020-2021 school year. As previously announced in a press release dated August 4, 2020, annual school accreditation has been waived for the 2021-2022 school year. It is important to note that this waiver does not affect requirements for standardized testing for the 2020-2021 school year. The Virginia Department of Education anticipates at this time that SOL tests scheduled for the 2020-2021 school year will be administered.

“As local plans are developed for administering SOL tests to students in 2020-2021, school divisions must consider that all SOL tests are to be administered under secure, standardized testing conditions in the presence of school personnel. SOL tests are not to be administered remotely to students in a virtual school environment.”…

Additional Fall 2020 Test Administration Details

“In the event a student is scheduled to take one or more SOL tests in fall 2020 and parents refuse to have the student participate or the student refuses to participate in the test due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a refusal (i.e., testing status 50 or 51) is not to be recorded and a “0” score will not be assigned to the student’s test.” 

“If the (high school) student was scheduled to a take an end-of-course SOL test, school division staff are encouraged to communicate with the parents and student regarding the student’s graduation requirements and future plans to attempt to earn the needed verified credit (i.e., future spring, summer, or fall SOL test administrations; a Board-approved substitute test).”…

“For an end-of-course SOL test that is not required for federal accountability, school divisions may offer a Board-approved substitute test for verified credit in lieu of offering the end-of-course SOL test.”

We have no idea currently how many refusals “due to the COVID-19 pandemic” there have been, but that is obviously a hole potentially big enough to invalidate the SOLs as a test of student learning losses.  We also don’t know what any new Spring rules may be. 

But it is reasonable to expect that students who have gotten lost academically will not want to be tested to expose that fact.  

It will fall upon teachers to make up for that deficit in standardized results by quantifying learning losses in their classes. We are left to hope that administrators don’t “curate” those reports on the way to the school boards whose job it is to address remediation of learning losses. I am not hopeful.

High School Students Passing SOL Scores Lowered

The second memorandum from the same source on December 4 was explained as an attempt to reduce the effects of COVID on high school graduation. It reduces the passing score on end or course SOLs from 400 to 350 (out of 800) as long as a student “demonstrates mastery of the standards, competencies, and objectives of the entire course through a locally-determined verification process.” The same memo eliminated the SOL requirement entirely for history and social science courses.

SUBJECT: Update to the Emergency Guidelines for Locally Awarded Verified Credits

At its November 19, 2020 business meeting, the Board of Education approved an update to the Emergency Guidelines for Locally-Awarded Verified Credits. The revised Emergency Guidelines remove barriers to earning a verified credit for students who continue to be impacted by ongoing pandemic conditions and meet the enumerated conditions. These guidelines are available for immediate implementation.

The Emergency Guidelines establish two pathways to earning a verified credit through an amended locally-awarded verified credit process. 

Option one applies to those students enrolled in any high-school credit bearing course that was eligible for verified credit in the fall of 2020. These students may earn a locally-awarded verified credit if they: (1) pass the corresponding high school course; and (2) attempt the associated Standards of Learning assessment and receive a score within the 350 – 399 range; and (3) demonstrate mastery of the standards, competencies, and objectives of the entire course through a locally-determined verification process.

Option two applies to those students enrolled in a high-school credit bearing course in history/social science that was eligible for a verified credit in the fall of 2020 or spring of 2021. The locally-determined verification process for these students must include the student’s responses to performance assessment tasks, however, there is no requirement that the student must have taken the associated history or social science Standards of Learning assessment.

In addition to providing flexibility to students, option two encourages school divisions to build and/or grow their capacity to administer performance assessments in history and social science, allows teachers to assess in dynamic ways, and creates a foundation for the use of this type of assessment model in the future.

That last sentence is key and reveals where VDOE is heading. This isn’t really about COVID. It is all part of the long-term plan.  

  • Step 1. The educational left hates standardized testing. It wants local assessments to replace standardized state-wide tests.   
  • Step 2. Leftist-run school districts starting with Albemarle are full speed ahead to make those local assessments victims of equal outcomes grading.  

Many students won’t learn but every one will get a trophy. Eliminate the evidence and there is no problem to solve. No measurable issues.  

The left hasn’t grasped yet that if every kid gets the same reported results the justification for the “equity” bureaucracies will evaporate. But I trust them to offer a different rationale – -racism would come roaring back into control if they left.

For the kids themselves — and where in the Department of Education is the Kids’ Interests Division (KID) — what could possibly go wrong?