Saturday, June 20, 2009

RICHMOND | The state Department of Education is withdrawing a proposal to discontinue third-grade history and social-science accountability tests, after vocal protests from history advocates and state legislators.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said Friday she has informed the Board of Education that she is withdrawing the proposal to eliminate the third-grade history Standards of Learning tests.

The board was to vote next week on the measure, which came in response to a request from school superintendents for the state to find ways to reduce their testing load, particularly in exams not required by the federal government. It would have taken effect in the upcoming school year, and would have saved the state about $380,000 annually.

“While I continue to believe that the testing burden on young children and schools could have been lessened without sacrificing accountability for history instruction in the early grades, I understand the concerns of the educators, legislators and others who disagreed,” Ms. Wright said.

The proposal caused a furor among history education advocates, legislators and officials at historic sites including Colonial Williamsburg, who said cutting the third-grade test would allow schools to devalue history and social-studies education in early elementary school.

Ms. Wright said she plans to recommend instead that the test remain a part of the state’s accountability program, and that the board authorize the Department of Education to develop new third-grade history tests based on last year’s revision of the history and social-science standards.

She also will recommend that the board approve a plan to incorporate history-related content into the elementary Standards of Learning reading tests, which will be developed after next year’s scheduled revision of state reading standards. This was part of the original proposal the board was to take up next week.

Colin G. Campbell, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s president, said he was “gratified” by the decision.

“I continue to feel that focusing on the early years of American history is critical in a democratic society,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s not too soon, in third grade, to be paying attention to the key points in making a democracy work.”

In appearances this week before General Assembly money committees, Ms. Wright faced heavy criticism about the proposal, said Delegate Robert Tata, Virginia Beach Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee.

Economics education groups, college professors, representatives of Indian tribes and black-history advocates were among those who had complained about the proposal, Mr. Tata said.

“It was probably a losing proposition from the beginning,” Mr. Tata said in a phone interview.

Even after Friday’s reversal, the committee still plans to have speakers discuss the issue at its meeting Monday, Mr. Tata said.

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