The county School Board passed a resolution this week calling for standardized testing reform, joining a growing movement in school boards across the state pushing for an overhaul of the Standards of Learning assessments.
The resolution, approved unanimously by the board on Monday, asks the state General Assembly and Board of Education to re-examine the assessment system, which currently requires each student to take 34 SOL exams between grades 3 and 11.
More than 50 school boards in Virginia have adopted similar resolutions, according to Steven Staples, the executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents.
“I think what we’re seeing is pushback against way too much testing,” Staples said. “Children are engaged in testing so frequently that their time in school is spent getting ready for the next test. People feel like enough is enough.”
Several of the state’s 130 school districts passed resolutions on test reform last year, but the flood started in September, when VASS distributed a draft resolution to its members, according to Staples.
While many districts have passed resolutions nearly identical to the VASS model, the Fairfax County School Board took pains to craft its own. The county’s resolution is more pointed in certain areas; for example, it specifically objects to the increasing amount of time spent taking tests versus learning — an issue the model resolution only skirts around.
Though a central function of the SOL assessments is holding teachers and schools accountable for student performance, the resolution says there is “little research” to support the tests as a measure of achievement in these areas. The resolution also says there is “little evidence” to show that taking SOL assessments helps students succeed in postsecondary or professional environments.
Through the resolution, the School Board also called for a focus on student-centered learning, which several board members said was slipping as test preparation piles on to student and teacher workload.
“When teachers are broken because they spent all their time assessing the children instead of teaching the children, then something is wrong with the system,” said School Board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District). “It’s time to fix it.”
Changes to the standardized testing system could come in different forms. The county resolution offers several potential options, including only testing a statistical sampling of school population, or allowing students who have performed well in the past to skip exams.
However, the actual reform will come not from the county but from the state. Calling on Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D) and newly elected state delegates who made SOL reform part of their campaigns, Schultz said, “The time has come to put the words into action.”
Not just in Virginia is the backlash against standardized testing approaching critical mass.
In 2012, a large number of Texas school districts adopted resolutions urging test reform. Fairfax County schools Superintendent Karen Garza supported such a resolution as superintendent in Lubbock, Tex., before joining the Fairfax school system this year. In July, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed reform legislation into law.
California decided to take a break from releasing standardized test results this school year. Instead, the state is giving practice tests to students, a tryout for a new system of assessment. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan released a statement standing against what he sees as a loss of accountability.
“No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students’ achievement, you need to know how all students are doing,” Duncan said in the statement.
Representatives of the Fairfax County school system wanted to ensure the public that the resolution is not a stand against accountability.
“We think it’s appropriate for us to be held accountable,” Garza said. “But we believe there are better ways to do that without completely letting testing be the driver of our educational system.”