- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

RICHMOND | Virginia’s Board of Education has given the state the green light to continue requiring third-graders to take history and social-science accountability tests.

The board on Thursday went along with Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright in withdrawing a controversial proposal to scrap the exams. Ms. Wright reversed her position last week after heated criticism from history advocates and state legislators who said cutting the tests would allow elementary schools to devalue history and social studies.

The board directed the state to proceed with revising the test to reflect last year’s scheduled updating of state history Standards of Learning.

The revised test would be first administered statewide in spring 2011; next spring’s exam will reflect current history standards, which were adopted in 2001.

It also asked the Department of Education to come up with a plan to include passages from social studies and other SOL subjects, including science and mathematics, in upcoming third-grade reading tests. The revised reading test would be administered statewide in spring 2013.

Ms. Wright’s initial proposal came in response to a request from school superintendents seeking ways to reduce their testing load, particularly in subject exams not required by the federal government, and create more instruction time, particularly for reading.

It would have taken effect in the upcoming school year, at a savings of about $380,000 annually.

She noted that she discussed the issue with four legislative committees over the last couple weeks, and though committee members criticized the proposal, the General Assembly recognizes the fiscal constraints the education department is facing.

It cost Virginia $35 million to administer the state SOL exams in the 2007-08 school year, Department of Education spokeswoman Julie Grimes said.

Several speakers and board members noted that the third-grade history test issue, which drew hundreds of e-mails, letters and phone calls to the education department, reflects a broader need to re-examine the state’s 14-year-old accountability system.

They encouraged state education officials to see if there are better ways to more accurately measure a student’s progress - and to make sure that they are being taught what they need to know - especially in light of federal mandates and proposed national education standards.

Glen H. Hoptman, vice chairman of the Virginia Commission on Civics Education, said it is essential that such tests gauge broader comprehension of how subjects are related and whether students understand ideas in context - which he says isn’t being measured now.

“That would, by necessity, require changes in tests, curriculum, textbooks and the way teachers are trained,” he said.

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