New SOL Requirements Cause Controversy

Joel Alexander, Entertainment Director

photo provided by Rachel Singleton
Sophomore Hannah Singleton studies for her upcoming history SOL.

Last week, Fauquier County Public Schools rolled out a newsletter to all teachers explaining that the longstanding Standards of Learning (SOL) requirements have changed. These changes include a dramatic decrease in the number of SOL tests that each student will have to take in order to graduate. Along with the decrease, the new policy alters the final exam exemption policies already in place by adding passing the SOL tests as a factor to whether students must take a final exam.

Before this policy, students had to complete six SOL tests to achieve a standard diploma and nine SOL tests for an advanced diploma. However, this new policy lowers both numbers down to five. The number of courses that students have to take is the same, but the number of SOL tests has been drastically reduced.

“What the state School Board has passed does limit and reduce the number of tests that the current Freshmen will have to take,” Superintendent David Jeck said. “The new Profile of a Virginia Graduate requires far fewer tests. For the incoming Freshmen, it will be a very different landscape for them.”

Most people, including Jeck, see the benefits that reducing the burden of SOL test-taking could create. Jeck has been very outspoken in his skepticism for the multiple-choice standardized test system of operation.

“A multiple-choice standardized test is one way to measure learning. We get that,” Jeck said. “What’s happened nationwide is it’s on steroids. We’ve taken one measure of learning and made it the thing that we judge everything by. That’s not right because students learn differently and they show what they learn differently.”

Jeck’s sentiments are shared by many of the students at Fauquier High School. Senior Charlie Mulliss appreciates the benefits that SOL tests bring, but agrees upon the skepticism regarding the schools’ reliance on them.

“The idea of a standardized set of what people should be taught is a good idea to advance knowledge,” Mulliss said. “The tests are the problem, since they have a narrow landscape of what good test-taking skills are.”

Following this logic, many people support the policy because it will reduce the amount of testing that, in their opinion, exhibits bias. However, Jeck has also stated that teachers need to keep their priorities straight when it comes to the new policy.

“We are always going to have the standards. That’s what’s supposed to be taught.” Jeck said. “The way we assess them, that’s what’s changed. If there’s a catch to this it’s that teachers got to remember, and principals and superintendents have to remember that we still have to teach to 1,865 standards.”

The other facet of the new SOL policy regarding the exam exemptions is far more controversial than the decreasing of required SOL tests for graduates. Many teachers and students prefer the previous policy based off of absences and grades than the new one that includes the SOL test.

“If we’re going to go with this policy, I’d still like to see it tied to absences,” Pfeiffer said. “So let’s say you pass the SOL, and you have three or four absences, maybe you’re exempt. But it does seem a little unfair to have someone with a boatload of absences and a very low grade get out of the exam by passing the SOL.”

Many students and teachers do not consider themselves fans of the SOL testing system, so this comes as good news to many of them. However, some teachers have criticized the new program for not treating all subjects with equal importance.

“I see why it’s necessary in some fields,” Fauquier High School history teacher Ron Pfeiffer said. “I vehemently disagree with it as a blanket policy. I think there should have been some level of flexibility with regards to subject.”

This is a valid complaint that is not addressed by the newsletter that was sent out last week to all staff of Fauquier County High Schools. Jeck also realizes that this is an issue that needs to be looked into.

“I don’t see the exemption policy changing,” Jeck said. “When I was a principal, and this is going back nearly 20 years, if you passed the SOL, then you passed the exam, and then we had a scale. If you got a 400 to a 450, then you got an 80; if you got a 450 to a 500 then you got a 90–it was kind of like that. We were way ahead of the game, even back then.”

The new SOL policies still contain many facets that need to be worked out, but many still agree that it will be a step in the right direction for the future of standardized testing in FCPS.

“This means that for incoming freshman, their teachers should have more flexibility in terms of the way they teach–giving kids more opportunities to be active learners, collaborate with their classmates, and to participate in authentic service-based projects or project-based learning.” Jeck said. “There should be more opportunities for those current freshmen as they move through to do different things, to learn differently, etc. That should be the biggest change.”