PWC Parents Choose to Opt their Children Out of SOL Testing

| May 19, 2015 | 1 Comment | Education

SOL LogoThis is the first in a series of articles investigating the administration of the Standards of Learning assessment in Prince William County.

Across the country, students are protesting state assessments by refusing to take the tests.

Most notably, the entire 11th grade did not show up take the Smarter Balanced Assessment test at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle at the end of April.

When Bristow Beat asked Prince William residents if they have ever considered opting their children out of Virginia’s SOL test, many were surprised they had the choice.

“Wait. We can do that?! Game changer!!”

“I didn’t know it was an option.”

“I didn’t realize this was happening or there was a potential option to not take them.”

While there is no formal Prince William County School policy for parents to opt their children out of taking the SOL test, still some parents throughout the county have chosen to inform administrators of their respective schools that their children will not be taking the tests.

Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that opting out of SOLs at lower grade levels affects future placements in advanced courses.

The reported refusals have been for tests administered at the elementary and middle schools levels. In order to receive a verified credit toward graduation, students must pass their core tests at the high school level.

According to the Virginia Department of Education, “a verified unit of credit is awarded for a course in which the student earns a standard unit of credit and achieves a passing score on a corresponding end-of-course SOL test or a substitute assessment approved by the Board of Education.”

“I have opted my son out from grades three through eight (he is now a freshman) and I am a school teacher,” said local parent Cindy Fitz. “I went to the school and met with administration to let them know my son would not be taking the SOLs. I was read a statement letting me know that his scores would be reported as ‘0’ and that the school would receive failures.”

While there are no automatic consequences for these students from PWCS or state agencies, PWCS Director of Communications Services Phil Kavits said their refusal to take the tests hurts the school division.

“Refusals do have an impact on the schools,” Kavits said. “Because a student receives a score of ‘0.’ When parents refuse participation, the missing test is counted as a failing score for a school in state and federal accountability pass rates, and a failing score for our division in federal accountability pass rates.”

Kavits said in spring 2014, a total of 77 tests from 30 students were coded as parent refusals.

“We will not know for certain the number of parent refusals in PWCS this year until after the spring 2015 testing window is over (around the last day of school),” he said.

School Board Chairman At-Large Milt Johns is not very concerned about potential consequences to PWCS, since only .03 percent students opted out of the test last year.

“I defer to parents to know what is best for their children, but this seems like a very small number, and I think overall, will not have an impact one way or another on the school system,” Johns said.

Parents have received varying degrees of feedback from administrators when they request their children be excused from the tests.

“They were not happy about this as my son is SPED and African American; therefore, his scores counted in multiple categories. I was actually lectured about robbing my son of this ‘opportunity,” Fitz said.

Many PWCS teachers classify the SOL as “high stakes,” often dedicating large amounts of instructional time to teaching specific curricular items that have been identified as vital toward students’ success on these assessments. Schools throughout the county identify and classify some students as “in danger of failing” and offer additional remediation activities.

Another local parent explained she almost refused SOL remediation for her daughter, who is in the fourth grade, because it was causing her stress.

“Based on her math score from last year, her teacher recommended SOL remediation once a week after school,” Shannon King said. “I didn’t plan on having her attend because I do not agree with this testing, but she is so worried about not passing [so] she begged me to stay after for it.”

King noted that her daughter did well on her previous year’s SOLs; however, she felt so nervous about them in her current year that she had difficulty sleeping.

“My 9-year-old should not be stressed out about this,” she said. “It is ridiculous and I cannot believe the pressure they put on them. If I could opt her out I would.”

Student stress is not the only reason parents choose to opt their children out of taking SOLs; one parent disagreed with the math curriculum.

Lana Broyles decided to opt her son out of the third grade math SOL, because she opposed the Math Investigations curriculum developed at TERC in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She explained that she sent a letter to the Superintendent’s office.

“The head of math curriculum for the [school division] called me after receiving my letter sent to the superintendent,” Broyles said. “After 30 minutes of a politely heated conversation regarding MI/TERC, we agreed to disagree. My son received a zero on that test.”

Virginia-based advocacy group RVA Opt Out explained that parents can choose to opt their students out of the SOL tests without having to provide justification. They also note that taking the SOLs is not explicitly required by the state.

The group cites the Virginia Department of Education’s declaration: “All students in tested grade levels and courses are expected to participate in Virginia’s assessment program, unless specifically exempted by state or federal law or by Board of Education regulations.”

“The key to this quote is the word ‘expected,” the group points out on their website. “It is an expectation NOT a requirement that students take the Standards of Learning assessment.”

In the next article in the series, we investigate alternatives to certain SOL tests.

© 2015, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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  1. epage20169 says:

    How current is this information? It talks about opting out due to TERC Math Investigaitons; are they still pushing that nonsense in the lower grades?

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