The Orange County School Board has joined dozens of boards statewide to take a stand against the commonwealth’s student testing system.
According to data compiled by Orange County Public Schools Director of Testing, Data and School Improvement Jim Yurasits, the typical advanced studies diploma seeking student takes 234 standardized tests through their academic career, from kindergarten through 12th grade. The advanced studies diploma is what most college-bound students pursue. Among the 234 test are 34 Virginia Standards of Learning Tests and 200 other diagnostic, benchmark and achievement assessments—including Advanced Placement (AP) tests and the SAT. A standard diploma-seeking student’s testing situation would be very similar, albeit with three fewer Standards of Learning tests and perhaps fewer AP tests.
And while one might think a few non-SOL tests could be eliminated from the mix, Yurasits said the diagnostic and benchmark tests are important to determine where students are in mastering course material.
“In order to do well on the SOL tests and avoid [sanctions], we have to have the diagnostic tests,” he said. “We need those analytics and data to know what the areas for concern are and what needs to be reinforced.”
According to Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Bob Grimesey, the assessments, while necessary to meet the demands of state and federal accountability standards, take up more than an entire school year in the life of a student—leaving little time for much else.
“In Orange County and across the commonwealth, there is a growing concern about the time that children and teachers must devote to the memorization of facts as opposed to higher-order thinking, complex problem solving and practical application of acquired knowledge and skills,” he said. “This compulsion is fueled by the standardized test culture that has been mandated by the federal government and the state government, and encouraged by many leaders in the industry.”
The school board’s resolution, approved unanimously, stresses the importance of innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication and critical thinking and questions the lack of research supporting the assumptions that passing 34 standardized tests will improve students’ preparation for college and careers and serve as authentic measures of meaningful academic progress and faculty/staff performance.
Through the resolution, the board asks for changes from the state including the reduction of the total SOLs and the provision of expedited retakes for all students. Board members also ask for the establishment of a state-wide taskforce to reform the SOL system, addressing alternative assessment and accountability measures and including those in the state’s accountability system. The taskforce would also look at developing a tiered assessment system for state accountability including a package of state-mandated tests, locally developed assessments and existing external exams like the PSAT, AP tests and/or workplace certification and credential tests.
Despite the onerous testing culture, Grimesey said he remains proud that “the vast majority of Orange County teachers work hard to break the mold and integrate opportunities for children to expand their thinking.”
“It’s amazing to think how much more our teachers could accomplish with our students if federal and state policy makers would allow more flexibility at the classroom level,” he added.