SOL retakes help relieve some pressure off both schools and students

Sharon Cox’s grandson failed his English Virginia SOL test by a few points this year. Disappointed by his performance, the 7th grader hailing from Read Mountain Elementary School, decided to take the test once again. On his second try, the 14 year old was able to pass the test with flying colors. As a matter of fact, he passed the test by 50 points, which was a great relief for him. “He feels great about his score, and he’s elated that he had the chance to do it again” Cox said.

educationMany students from the region are retaking the test just like Darian this spring, which allows the state to improve its scores which are used as a main criterion for accreditation.  This boost is still new – It has only been two years since state schools were allowed to retake the SOL test in what was referred to as expedited retakes.

Administrators mentioned that this new policy relieves both students and schools by offering students the chance to redeem themselves, which was requested before, and relieves pressure on state schools to perform. Last year, expedited retake tests allowed state schools to improve their VA SOL Pass percentage by 5 percent in math and 4 percent in reading.

“Five points is a huge increase when it comes to SOL tests” mentioned Roanoke county school director Ben Williams, who is in charge of testing and remediation. For many schools which are on the cusp, this difference can mean getting their accreditation or getting denied.

Retakes were rolled out as part of a slew of new SOL legislation which came from both parties a couple of years back. The reform was a result of what many saw as an overemphasis on standardized testing, which was a direct result of the higher level of difficulty when applying for federal and state accreditation.

This came as the result of a committee of statewide administrators asking for a reform in testing in a report that was released in 2014. This reform was adopted in 2015 by a general assembly. Virginia’s education board approved the changes right after.

However, the reforms did not completely eliminate testing and how many students pass is still essential to accreditation. But the new retake reform allows schools to enjoy more flexibility according to Gabriel Reich, a VCU professor who conducted research on testing.

Reich mentioned that while he would appreciate more changes being implemented, this provides a sort of temporary solution for all parties involved.

“It’s a recognition that using a school’s performance or its students’ on a single test taken on one day in the entire school year as a judging criteria for such a big decision would be unfair” he said.

 

A Majority go through Retesting

Virginia SOL tests are assessed on a 600 point scale, and participants need at least 400 point to earn a Virginia SOL pass.

Only missing half of a question could be the deciding factor between scoring a 399 and 400 pass, according to Rita Bishop, who works as Roanoke’s Superintendent and is a staunch supporter of retakes.

“Come on, I mean, 399 vs 400?” Bishop mentioned. “this gives students a chance to show their knowledge, and I think it would be really helpful.”

With the blessing of a parent, students can take a retest if their score falls between a 375 and a 399. And under extenuating conditions, a superintendent may decide to allow a particular student whose score is under 375 to take a retest.

Before retakes were implemented, many students whose scores fell between 375 and 399 expressed their disappointment with not being able to retake the test, according to Williams.

“This was a concern we got multiple times, especially from principals”… ‘Billy scored 399 and was so near to getting his Virginia SOL pass, and was imploring us to give him a second chance,’ “ he said. “There was a larger number of these students who wanted to retake the test and didn’t want to deal with the stigma of being labeled a SOL test failure,’ ‘

Students who decide to retake the test are required to retest within 15 days of their first try. Between the 2 tests, schools will offer special courses targeted especially at the portions that were failed by the students.

In some cases, many students did not pass just because they had a bad day. Sometimes, students may need a little bit more time to brush up on the learning material, according to educators. In other cases, students failed questions because the way it was presented and taught in their classes was not in alignment with how the questions were formulated in their tests.

Across the state, around half of the students that were allowed to take a Virginia SOL retake were able to get a pass on their second attempt. This is according to data on school raw pass rates after and before retakes by the Education Department. 47 percent of all students passed their Virginia SOL retake in reading and 48 percent in Mathematics.

Williams mentioned that there was no pressure applied on the parents for their children to go through a retake. However, 90 percent of them decided to take it.

Elizabeth McCormick mentioned that she agreed on the spot the year prior when a Price’s Fork School Administrate approached her to ask if she would be in favor of her 13 year old son retaking the test. After further reflection however, she wasn’t sure he she’d agree a second time.

“Just knowing how stressful these kind of tests are for her would be enough for me to rethink my decision” McCormick mentioned.

Her daughter got a pass on the second test, but McCormick and her boyfriend expressed disapproval with the whole process. They decided to take their daughter out of standardized testing altogether as long as her grades stay above the 80 mark.

A new version of the tests were introduced this year and certain portions were shortened, math and reading specifically. According to Williams, she hopes this will make it less extenuating for students who decided to go for a retake

“It makes the load a little less difficult when tests are significantly lower” she said.

Parents should assess how their child reacts to Virginia SOL tests before they decide to make their final decision according to Williams. They should also prepare their children for the chance they might score under 400. Double failure can wreak havoc on the self esteem of a child.

 

Relieving Pressure

High school students can also do retakes as it is essential for graduation.

However, on the elementary level, these scores aren’t as important and scores might be utilized simply for class statements.

Instead, pressure lands directly on the adult administrators in the schools who rely on these schools for accreditation and avoid sanctions

“The stakes were low for the students and high for the administration” according to Williams. “That’s not a good combination because one group carries the larger part of the load.

The boost of 4 to 5 points can work wonders on taking some of that pressure off their shoulders.

Schools can rely on a three year average when comes the time to get accreditation but are required to have a 75% Virginia SOL pass rate in reading and 75% for math, social studies and science. Last year, a large number of schools had to rely on retakes to gain an accreditation, according to the state Education Department.

Roanoke’s Lincoln Terrace Elementary had a 61% reading pass prior to the retakes and 76% after. W.E. Cundiff had 71% before and 77% after. This difference in score was even bigger on individual grades.

Fourth and fifth grade scores in the reading category at Roanoke Academy soared by a whopping 20% after retakes. 8th grade math soared by 17% in math at Montgomery County’s Shawsville Middle School.

Every test in important according to Williams. Some schools failed their accreditation by what would be the equivalent of one student failing their Virginia SOL test. Statistically, the more students take the test, the more difficult it is to pass.

There is a lot to be pleased with when we’re looking at which direction accountability and testing has been going in the last few years, according to VCU professor Reich.

Retakes on Virginia SOL tests did a lot to relieve some of the pressure as well as the elimination of a variety of tests. New labels for accreditation, which were rolled out in 2015, give recognition to schools that are improving or are coming closer to reaching benchmarks, even if they end up falling short.

Reich hopes new changes will continue in that vain for these changes to come into effect.

“I just hope that they will stay in that direction for at least a decade like we stuck with the previous reform” he said. “Then, we could really see good things happening.”



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