While standardized testing reform has met with broad support from both chambers in the Virginia General Assembly, the means to that end is still up in the air.
State legislators are juggling short-term and long-term options for overhauling the Standards of Learning system. Yet while the number of bills shows the groundswell of support for this reform that has built over the past year, it also leaves lawmakers with a lot of options to slog through.
Approximately 20 bills have been introduced between the Senate and House of Delegates proposing changes big and small to the SOL assessment system, according to Michael Molloy, the director of government relations for the Fairfax County school system. The system currently requires each student to take 34 SOL exams from grades three to 11.
Some of the proposed legislation would provide immediate relief for the issue of overtesting. For example, one bill passed in the Senate would reduce tests for elementary school students starting next school year.
“The short-term approach is focused just on outright elimination of some tests,” Molloy said. “There’s no real discussion about changing the standards themselves, just the assessments that are attached.”
Other bills try another tack, aiming to review and change the underlying structure of the SOL assessments.
For example, Senate Bill 636 passed that body 37-2 on Tuesday. Under that proposal, the state Board of Education would to review the Standards of Learning assessments and develop a more comprehensive plan to reduce the number of tests by 25 percent by the 2015-16 school year.
Seeing that much of the bills for reform remained in these separate boxes, several delegates decided to fix the issue. Del. Rob Krupicka (D-Dist. 45) teamed up with several more representatives to consolidate several short-term and long-term reform ideas into one bill. Krupicka represents portions of Fairfax and Arlington counties, as well as most of Alexandria City.
“We really wanted to not only reduce tests but to think about what happens when these tests go away,” Krupicka said. “What do you do? How will we start rethinking tests over time? This starts us on that path.”
House Bill 930 would reduce the number of SOL tests for elementary and middle school students from 22 to 17, starting in the next school year.
It also includes steps toward a more radical overhaul of the standardized testing system.
First, it directs school districts to develop “authentic assessments” to give in place of the standardized tests. These assessments would focus more on critical thinking and problem solving, and could be project- or performance-based.
Second, the bill calls for the creation of a “Standards of Learning Innovation Committee,” to start researching changes to the current SOLs and to recommend alternative assessment models. According to Krupicka, the “authentic assessments” would ideally serve as a sandbox to test new, innovative practices.
“We want to take a longer view and make sure we’re being smart about how we do this,” Krupicka said.
HB 930 now stands as one of the more high-profile SOL reform bills moving forward in the General Assembly.
It passed out of Education Committee on a unanimous vote on Wednesday. A vote is expected in the full House of Delegates early next week, Krupicka said. More than 60 delegates already have signed on as co-sponsors.
“I think it’s probably on track to being a unanimous vote out of the House of Delegates,” Krupicka said. “I think it’s really close, at least.”
As with many of the SOL reform bills, HB 930 has attracted wide bipartisan support.
“I know there’s a lot of interest in the Senate as well,” said Del. Jim LeMunyon (R-Dist.67). “I would say there’s a good chance that a bill is going to get to the governor’s desk.”
The movement for testing reform in Virginia started surging during the gubernatorial campaign, LeMunyon said. Both candidates started calling for changes. By November, more than 50 school boards across the state, including Fairfax County, passed a resolution calling on the General Assembly to re-examine the assessment system.
This state push mirrors an even larger national swing away from standardized testing. For example, 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 last summer. In July 2013, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed reform legislation into law.
“You saw a real groundswell build,” Krupicka said. “And a lot of that groundswell was driven by parents worried about overtesting. They were concerned that we were moving away from the type of instruction they wanted to see.”