- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — A retired professor says Virginia’s Standards of Learning chemistry tests contain too many errors and that a chemist should be appointed to help choose questions and develop standards.

Larry Sacks, who taught chemistry at Christopher Newport University, said he has counted as many as 10 errors on the state’s 50-question, multiple-choice SOL chemistry test.

He and other chemistry professionals have tracked errors since the state began using the tests in 1998.

“In general, they’ve gotten better over the last few years,” he said.

The four Virginia chapters of the American Chemical Society addressed accuracy concerns last month in a report to the state Board of Education.

“Our greatest concern is over the accuracy of the items,” said Mr. Sacks, chairman of the group’s Hampton Roads chapter.

The group’s report says that “controls over accuracy of content have failed in numerous instances,” resulting in major errors.

The report further states that the errors “cast doubt on the validity of the test.”

The state has tested high school chemistry students since 1998. Science test results are among four subjects used to determine whether a school receives state accreditation.

Also, the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to phase in science tests to measure student achievement.

State education officials say their process for revising tests and catching errors is effective.

“Highly qualified” high school teachers develop and review test questions, said Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle. He said the state revised the chemistry standards in 2003 and will do so again in a few years.

Between revisions, Mr. Pyle said, the state reviews tests when there is “a change of knowledge,” such as when astronomers downgraded Pluto from its status as a planet.

Mr. Sacks said the process doesn’t address errors quickly enough.

“If there’s an error, it should be corrected today,” he said. “It should not wait.”

Stephen Gagnon, who maintains a Jefferson Lab Web site with math and science practice questions from SOL tests since 2000, said he has seen errors in test questions the state has released.

Mr. Gagnon, a science and education technician, said he “repaired” those questions before posting them on the Web site.

Mr. Pyle noted that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit research organization, gave the state an “A” in a December report on states’ science standards.

The report focused on the state’s physics and life sciences tests, but it called the high school sciences curriculums sophisticated, “even in chemistry, where so many states fall down.”

“We are very proud of our standards and test instruments,” Mr. Pyle said.

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