The structure of Virginia Standards of Learning exams forces counties to stress state-mandated testing in unhealthy ways. All classes in FCPS are required to partake in these tests at the end of the year until the necessary credits are verified, despite a multitude of valid exceptions. The Virginia Department of Education states that the only way to be exempted from these assessments is by state or federal law or by the Board of Education regulations.
Of the one million Virginia public school students taking the SOL in 2014, only 680 parents opted their children out. This number remains low because the county does not want lower test scores to misrepresent the school. An opted-out exam isn’t listed as opted-out, but instead as a zero, with no explanation of the circumstance by which that score was generated.
SOLs last from third grade to high school graduation, depending on courses and diplomas applicable to the test taker. But in order to avoid these zeros, SOLs take a stricter shape after eighth grade.
There is little to no leeway in terms of opting out of the exams at the end of the year. The tests a student does or does not pass influence which diploma they are eligible to receive in senior year: standard, advanced or modified. This is because certain courses require a verification in order to count towards their record.
While it is true that funding is not technically linked to SOL scores like in other states, rankings come from these scores. If a school has a poor ranking, it affects all aspects of the school, and in turn could impact funding.
Schools should not be judged based on a cut and dry list of numbers when they represent a diverse group of test takers. If Standards of Learning scores did not determine school ranking, then they would be more open to understanding student circumstances on a personal level. The solution is to have the state of Virginia redesign the system for calculating a school’s success, allowing the opportunity for students to better customize their end of year testing to cater to certain disabilities or hindrances. This would ultimately protect schools from misjudgment, and a long overdue updated system would benefit the health of teachers and students alike. The state needs to re-evaluate what student circumstance means to them, before stressing such importance on a couple of exams.