- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 9, 2001

The Virginia Board of Education will next month consider a proposal that could bring a reprieve to thousands of high schoolers who may not graduate in 2004 because of a Standards of Learning requirement.
Current SOL guidelines say that high school students who do not pass six SOL tests will not be allowed to graduate starting in 2004. But under the new plan, students who fall no more than 25 points short of a passing score of 400 in the SOLs will get credit for the course if they meet other criteria, including a passing grade from the teacher and regular attendance.
Students who want to get the extra credit will also have to take remediation programs offered by the school district.
Officials who put forward the proposal say it is meant for students who were in elementary school when the SOLs were implemented and did not always have the benefit of a curriculum aligned with the standards specifically, the classes of 2004, 2005 and 2006.
"There has been a discussion for a couple of years about the first group of children involved with the SOL requirement for graduation. We know that they do not have the support and preparation that current students have, particularly in the area of curriculum alignment," said Mark Edwards, superintendent of schools in Henrico County. Mr. Edwards co-chairs the Accountability Advisory Committee to the Board of Education that unanimously approved the recommendation this week.
He said a significant number of students "thousands statewide" would benefit from the plan if it is implemented.
The verified credit would, however, show up in the student's record, officials said. "It is a way of helping students without lowering standards," said Charles Pyle, spokesman for the Department of Education.
Parents across the state greeted the proposal as a "step in the right direction."
"We can't have performance on a single test becoming a barrier to students graduating. Tests should be a diagnostic tool and not a barrier to students passing," said Mitch Luxenburg, president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs.
The proposal reflects several pieces of legislation that failed in the Virginia General Assembly last year, including a bill introduced by Karen Darner asking that multiple criteria be taken into consideration while judging students in the transition years.
Mickey VanDerwerker, who heads the group Parents Across Virginia United to Reform SOLs, said there exists a maximum margin of error of 25 points on any test, and by allowing a student to pass if he were within 25 points of the passing rate the board would clear the way for several deserving students to graduate. "It will definitely help children who fall close to the margin," she said.
The downside, she said, is the plan would not help children after the class of 2006. The new proposal also does not apply to the two mandatory English tests in reading and writing that are among the six tests students have to pass.
Last month, the Virginia Board of Education voted to lower the score needed to pass four SOL tests in social studies. The latest proposal from the accountability advisory committee will be considered at a Jan. 7 meeting.

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