It’s SOL Season…Can We Just Say “NO?”
Part One in a Series
It’s SOL Season once again in PWCS; everybody get excited! Yes, the school year’s effectively over as we turn our attention from teaching and learning to cramming for the SOLs. Bold new concepts are out – Jefferson Lab, SOL PASS, and last year’s released SOL tests are “in” for nonstop drill & kill prior to reaching the summit of the academic year – the SOL tests! Nowhere is this more obvious than in PWCS elementary schools.
So to get in the spirit of the season, perhaps a little elementary school quiz for parents might help. Ready? Here we go.
Select the correct answer for the multiple choice question and fill in the bubble next to your answer with a Number 2 pencil (no pens please, and no calculators allowed):
A. If I decide not to permit my elementary school child to participate in mathematics SOL testing in PWCS, the following will happen:
- My child will receive a failing classroom grade.
- My child will be held back and not allowed to move on to the next grade level.
- My child will not be eligible for “extended math” in middle school.
- None of the above. Non-participation in SOL testing has no impact on my child’s grades, academic progression, or placement.
The correct answer is 4. None of the above.
If you selected 1 through 3, don’t feel bad for you’d be in the company of the majority of parents across PW county and the state at large who feel that elementary school children must take the SOLs or dreadful things will happen. But the truth is that non-participation in SOL testing at the elementary school level poses no negative consequences within Virginia public schools. Surprised? So were we.
Virginia state law requires that public school divisions administer SOL tests, but very clearly states that students in kindergarten through eighth grade are only, “Expected to take the tests.[i]” The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) further asserts that students are, “Expected to participate,” in Virginia’s assessment system.[ii]
But what happens to children whose parents just say, “No?” In contacting the VDOE and PWCS central administration personnel parents will learn that if one’s elementary school children are otherwise passing their grade level courses, non-participation in SOL testing has no impact on classroom grades, retention, or placement. A “no grade” based on non‑participation in say a 3d, 4th, or 5th Grade math SOL test is simply that – not a Fail, Pass, or Pass Advanced figure; just a non-participation.
Let’s look at each of the incorrect responses in the interest of setting the record straight.
A. My child will receive a failing classroom grade. FALSE.
PWCS Grading Policy and Regulations prohibit the use of SOL test results in determining classroom grades per PWCS Regulation 661-1.[iii]
B. My child will be held back and not allowed to move on to the next grade level. FALSE.
If your child is otherwise receiving passing grades (demonstrated achievement and skills) throughout the year, a non-participation “no score” on an SOL test does not affect promotion to the next grade level.[iv]
C. My child will not be eligible for “extended math” in middle school. FALSE.
Non-participation in SOL testing does not preclude student placement in PWCS “extended” middle school courses. Interestingly enough there are no state or local PWCS policies or regulations formally governing placement in “extended” middle school courses. The customs and conventions vary from school to school in PWCS and are based largely on educator judgment and recommendation supported by a child’s achievements and parental input for those parents who elect to participate in the placement process.
So if you’re inclined to “opt out” of elementary school SOLs, the fact of the matter is that there’s no negative consequence to your child’s matriculation in PWCS. So why then, are there growing numbers of parents just saying, “No,” to statewide testing?
Over the last few years, parents across the nation have opted not to participate in state testing in increasing numbers. “Opting out” of state-administered assessments like the SOL has become increasingly common. In PWCS the phenomena appears to be partly in response to substandard instructional programs. Some local parents interviewed for this article cited PWCS’s elementary math program “Math Investigations” as reason for withdrawing students from the SOLs. In that regard, opting out has become a protest over the county’s mandatory use of texts rejected by the VDOE. Other parents simply don’t support the hyper-focus on nothing but SOL drill and kill from the end of April through the end of the school year. Whatever the reason, this article’s intent is simply to set the record straight for parents – if your elementary school children don’t participate in SOL testing, bad things do not happen.
However, the same can’t be said for the school system. Virginia public schools and divisions are “graded” if you will by student participation rates and passing rates on the SOLs. According to the Virginia Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia, schools are accredited based primarily on achievement of, among other elements, the percentage of students passing the Virginia assessment program tests (the SOLs) [v]. So when parents elect to “opt out,” schools and divisions like PWCS get very, very nervous. Losing accreditation runs the risk of increased oversight at the state level and jeopardizes division funding. And as much as we’d like to believe our schools are,
“All about the children,” the truth is that public education is an industry – an industry highly motivated by the stream of tax dollars that makes it all possible. So if you’ve ever felt that somehow all the focus and pressure brought to bear on elementary school children in PWCS just didn’t add up, perhaps we’ve given you some food for thought. PWCS’s SOL focus is driven by much more than your children’s elementary school academic achievement. And as parents perhaps that will help in your understanding as you cram for the SOLs at home this season…or you might just consider saying, “No,” and don’t worry about it.
Authors’ note: An in depth look at PWCS middle school and high school SOL testing and overall PWCS student standardized testing is forthcoming in subsequent Parts in this Series