Worner: When measuring student success, SOLs are just the beginning | Remark
Wayne “Dempsey” Worner
Kudos to Matt Hurt, Director of the Comprehensive Instructional Program Consortium, for his excellent nine-part series that outlines the critical elements needed to produce high learning standards test scores in any setting.
His research findings demonstrate that these factors contribute to high levels of student performance on SOL tests:
- Set clear and measurable goals. (High pass rates for ALL students taking the SOL.)
- Allocate instructional time in support of these goals.
- Collaborate with colleagues to identify and share the most effective strategies and materials to achieve goals.
- Set high expectations for all students. (No excuses.)
- Ongoing evaluation and feedback regarding the usefulness and effectiveness of shared materials and processes.
These and other strategies described by Hurt produced the desired result – that ZIP codes should not and will not predict SOL outcomes, when the consortium model is used.
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However, the question must be asked whether SOL scores represent a measure of quality that fulfills Virginia’s constitutional mandate to ensure “that a high quality educational program is established and continuously maintained.” Clearly, reading and math skills are essential components of a quality curriculum and underpin student success in most other educational programs. However, they do not measure the opportunities available to Virginia students or the ability of local school divisions to offer expanded programs in art, music, foreign languages, computer applications or the safe and up-to-date facilities in which these programs are offered. These are not problems that can be solved in the same way as improving SOL scores.
The SOLs also do not, for the most part, measure higher level thinking skills such as analysis, problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity. An observer once noted that “the most important things are the hardest to measure”. It is a simple question to administer a civics exam that asks the student to describe the separation of powers. We don’t follow up two years later to see how many of those same students voted, or what criteria (or sources) they might use to make a choice between candidates.
Another participant in a governor’s task force that focused on how schools assess student performance observed, “We shouldn’t just be asking ‘what do students know’, but ‘what are they able to do? “”SOL scores don’t provide us with that. information. Demonstrations or portfolios could.
None of this to denigrate the work of Hurt and his team; quite the contrary. His work is a valuable contribution that disabuses us of the notion that SOL scores are predictable by zip code. He very practically chooses to tackle SOL head-on because that is the Commonwealth’s method of evaluation.
We can only hope that future assessment rubrics will include a wider range of performance measures when assessing the quality of school programs across the Commonwealth. This will require the General Assembly to provide the necessary resources to ensure the availability of high quality programs, services, and opportunities for all students in Virginia.
Worner is a retired professor and Dean Emeritus of the College of Education at Virginia Tech.