- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Virginia students scored considerably higher on the Standards of Learning tests this year than last, with the biggest increases occurring in four tests for which passing scores were lowered after last year's tests.
Overall, the pass rates increased in 23 of the 28 tests, which are given to students in third, fifth and eighth grades and in high school, the state Department of Education reported yesterday.
Pass rates fell slightly in eighth-grade reading/literature and computer/technology and high school earth science and world geography. The pass rate for fifth-grade writing did not change.
At least 70 percent of students passed 27 of the tests this spring; last year, 70 percent of students passed 21 tests.
"This is very good news, particularly at the high-school level. People's concerns about high schoolers not graduating in large numbers will now be allayed," said Mark Christie, president of the state Board of Education.
SOL critics dismissed the history scores, saying students were required to answer fewer questions to pass the tests.
"I don't equate the rising and falling of pass rates with better teaching and learning. They [state Board of Education] are forgetting to remind us of the lower [number of questions required to pass]," said Mickey VanDerwerker, a spokeswoman for Parents Across Virginia United to Reform SOLs.
The biggest increases in pass rates were recorded on the fifth- and eighth-grade history and social sciences tests and the high school world history II and U.S. history tests.
The state Board of Education lowered the passing scores on those tests last year after a review of scoring patterns since the tests began in 1998 and a revision of the standards underlying them.
Mr. Christie said the board revised history standards a couple of years ago to help transition students children who already were in school when the SOLs were first implemented in 1997-1998 and did not have the benefit of an SOL-oriented curriculum from the beginning.
Starting in 2007, all high school students will have to pass a history test to graduate, he said.
The SOL tests are mandatory and students are tested in social sciences, math, English and science.
Starting in 2003, all high school students will have to pass at least six SOL tests including reading and writing in order to graduate. Schools that do not have a passing rate of at least 70 percent will lose their accreditation after 2007.
The state Board of Education will release the list of accredited schools before the end of this month, a spokesman said.
Mrs. VanDerwerker said the SOL tests should not be barriers to a student graduating or a ticket to remediation, nor should it be the sole criterion for accreditation.
"Anytime you do that, you are teaching to the test, and we start playing the numbers game," Mrs. VanDerwerker said. Parents Across Virginia United to Reform SOLs would like to see changes in SOL tests including multiple criteria to assess students.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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