Community Calls for SOL Test Changes - FOX 21/27 WFXR Roanoke/WWCW Lynchburg News, Weather

Community Calls for SOL Test Changes

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Some people in the Roanoke Valley are calling for a change to the SOLs.

"We are programmed to teach to the test, teach to the test," said Cristy Spencer, who teaches U.S. History at William Byrd High School and is a parent of two.

"I'm okay with teachers being held accountable. I like students being held accountable. Setting standards I'm okay with," Spencer said. "It's how they go about testing the students, getting the end result. Why not use the results of an SOL test to see how far a student has come instead of threatening them [with] ‘You will not graduate.'"

She was one of about a dozen teachers and community members standing on the steps of William Byrd High School calling for SOL changes.

"We need something that will agree with both the students and teachers," said Bootie Bell Chewning, a former teacher and concerned community member who says she wants to end SOL testing. "When you have to teach to a test and then the kids are measured by that test and the teachers are measured by the test, it's just wrong."

They say the testing preparation and process is too stressful for teachers and students.

"We just feel like we're at a point the students are being tested too much," said Mike Stovall, a Roanoke County School Board member who wants a task force put together. "Let's get everybody together and see if there's things we can do to kind of ease the burden a little bit on the testing."

"The only thing that matters is that score and these children are more than a score," Spencer said. "They're not a number."

"It was more of an education when we went to school. We received caring and what I'm hearing now, the stories from teachers and parents and children, is they're not feeling the children are being well cared for," said Freeda Cathcart. She is running for the 17th House of Delegates and organized the event. "There are children being tested for eight hours in a day. That is unacceptable. That should not happen."

Virginia Delegate Chris Head (R-Botetourt County) says there is already a workgroup looking at ways to improve the SOLs, but he doesn't think SOLs will ever go away.

"The problem is we haven't really changed the measure in 20 years. We need to look again and see how we can modify it," Head said. "We still need to measure, I'd just like to see us measure appropriately. "

Ben Williams, Roanoke County Public Schools associate director of testing and remediation, says they're pushing higher-level thinking skills for students, but says there is a transition period. He says schools are trying to avoid teaching to the SOL test all the time and they want students to be more than a score.

"We're trying to push 21st-century skills. Skills that students need after they graduate in college and in the work force," Williams said. "Critical thinking, collaboration, communication, problem solving: all those are really important and we need to teach those as well, so we're trying to find a balance between preparing students for the SOLs, but also preparing them for life."

A Virginia Department of Education spokesperson says teachers should not be spending long days doing practice tests leading up to the SOLs. They say students need to know the content and be able to apply it. Every seven years, the State Board of Education reviews the Standards of Learning and makes changes as the board feels are appropriate, and teachers serve on those committees.