- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

RICHMOND State education officials are considering pushing back the writing portion of the Standards of Learning (SOL) exams because of the number of school days lost to bad weather this year.
The writing test, composed of a multiple-choice section and an essay, is scheduled for March 3-5. Charles Pyle, spokesman for the State Department of Education, said that officials may postpone the test until March 13 or later, and that a decision will be made by the end of the week.
"We started looking at this earlier this month before the most recent storm had moved through," Mr. Pyle said. "Quite a few schools have missed a significant amount of time. … There are certainly many districts that have missed more than a dozen days."
The writing test is given to students in fifth, eighth and 11th grades. This is the first year that juniors will be required to pass the test to graduate, Mr. Pyle said.
The essay section must be administered to students on the same day because all schools in the state use the same exam. Mr. Pyle said the essays must be turned over to the schools' outside grading service by March 19.
Administrators theoretically could postpone the exam beyond March 13, though the state needs some leeway before the March 19 deadline to accommodate students absent on test day.
The multiple-choice section, which is not graded by the professional grading service, can be given to students anytime. Other SOLs are not scheduled to be administered until later this spring.
"We are determining whether any additional flexibility is available," Mr. Pyle said. "It will have to be a decision that will work for all of the schools, without impacting the scheduling of the scoring."
While more time would not necessarily help students better prepare for the test, which is designed to assess writing skills developed over years of instruction, school administrators say children need to be in the right mind frame to do well.
"I don't know you're going to teach someone to write in a week," said Layton H. Beverage, assistant superintendent for instruction in Nelson County. "However, there's more to it than that. There's general preparation. There's testing anxiety. … Kids like to go into this feeling as if they're ready."
Mr. Beverage said Nelson County schools have missed 15 days this year because of inclement weather. The latest winter storm, which dumped up to 3 feet of snow in parts of the state over Sunday and Monday, could keep the county's schools closed for the rest of the week, he said.
The county has five snow days built into its schedule. It only used two last year, he said.
"It's very abnormal," Mr. Beverage said. "We would certainly welcome any extension the state would give us as far as the SOLs are concerned. … Ideally, we'd like to see them extend it into the week of March 17th. The reason being, neighboring localities have also missed 10, 11, 12 days. We're not the only ones in this boat."
"That's fair to students. It's fair to teachers. It gives everyone the best opportunity for success, and that's really what we want."

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