- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Virginia's Standards of Learning tests are solid and reliable, but it is now time to look for proof of their impact on education in the state, according to a report released yesterday by a panel reviewing the standardized tests.
The report said Virginia's Board of Education would need to investigate such questions as "Are more students going on to college now? Are the colleges noticing that the students from Virginia schools are more qualified than before implementation of SOL assessments?" to judge the validity of the SOLs.
This was the first report by the six-member Technical Advisory Committee, which was set up in September 1999 and charged with producing an annual report on the validity and reliability of the SOLs and recommending changes to it. The members were appointed by the Board of Education from around the country to ensure the fairness of the review, said Superintendent for Public Instruction Jo Lynne DeMary.
The questions raised by the report were only "monitoring issues for the future," said Board of Education President Kirk T. Schroder. "This is a good report … the bottom line is, the SOL program is reliable and valid in the eyes of some of the foremost experts in the country."
The report, he added, "will put to rest unfounded criticism and fears" over the SOLs.
SOL tests cover math, science, English and history, and are administered to students in grades three, five, eight and high school.
Beginning in 2004, all students will have to pass the SOLs to earn a high school diploma, and by 2007 all schools must have 70 percent of their students pass in order to retain accreditation.
"We found evidence that the tests are being developed and refined in a professionally responsible way," said Ronald K. Hambleton, chairman of the committee and a testing expert at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
The report, however, questioned the efficacy of the multiple-choice format now used in all tests.
"Multiple-choice test questions may be well suited to some of the SOL, but may not be effective in assessing other SOL," the report said. "The SOL assessments are composed exclusively of multiple choice questions. Therefore, it is possible that some of these standards are not fully reflected in these assessments."
The report cautioned the Virginia Board of Education to ensure that the state's two-week deadline for returning test results to schools the shortest such deadline in the nation did not lead to errors when computing the results.
It also said the board needed to monitor in the future if schools narrowed their curricula to teach to the test, focusing only on the parts included in SOLs. The board should also address the concerns of parents.
Mr. Schroder said he would refer the report to an accountability group made up of groups of parents and business leaders, to ask for their input on further improving the tests.
Not everyone, however, was celebrating over the report yesterday. Mickey VanDerwerker of Parents Across Virginia United to Reform SOLs called it "self-congratulatory" and said it only "narrowly" addressed technical aspects of the SOLs while leaving out several other issues that parents had raised.
The report comes in the wake of a recent uproar over the SOLs. Just last week, 40 persons criticized the standardized tests at a hearing before the state House Education Committee. They were concerned that some students may not graduate because of the SOL requirement.
The committee's co-chairman, Delegate James H. Dillard II, Fairfax Republican, said yesterday he will introduce legislation proposing that students' graduation be determined by other criteria as well, including classroom performance.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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