student in classroom

Students may be able to skip SOL tests this year because of school closures.

As Fauquier County students and teachers completed their first full week at home due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, they received a bit of welcome news from state and federal officials Friday.

Because of the multi-week closure of Virginia’s public schools, students and teachers likely won’t have to worry about annual end-of-year standardized tests.

States impacted by the public health crisis can apply for waivers for federal standardized tests, the U.S. Department of Education said Friday, March 20.

In a statement, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said any state that deems it necessary “should proceed with canceling its statewide assessments for the 2019-20 school year.”

"Students need to be focused on staying healthy and continuing to learn. Teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other adaptations. Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time,” DeVos’ statement said. “Students are simply too unlikely to be able to perform their best in this environment.”

Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane announced late Friday afternoon that he had directed the state’s department of education staff to apply for the waiver for federal testing.

“I thank [the U.S. Education Department] for responding to the pleas of states — including Virginia — for relief during this time of national crisis and for providing a simple and expedited process for requesting waivers,” Lane said in a statement.

“I anticipate presenting our waiver application to the state Board of Education in early April and submitting it to Washington immediately upon approval by the board.”

Lane said Tuesday the state would seek “maximum flexibility” for schools and students to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, including relief from both federal and state testing requirements.

In his March 17 statement, Lane also said he is working with Gov. Ralph Northam to ensure that a lack of testing would not keep seniors from graduating this spring.

“I want students and parents to know that Governor Northam and I are committed to taking every step possible to minimize the impact of coronavirus on students and to ensure that our seniors are able to graduate,” Lane said. “This includes exploring exemptions from requirements unrelated to coursework for students due to graduate this spring.”

Superintendent of Fauquier County Schools David Jeck said March 18 that he had been waiting to find out what would happen with SOL testing. He said, “Say we wind up missing a month of school. That means kids will come back with just a couple of weeks before the SOLs. It would be unworkable. If they took the tests, they wouldn’t be an accurate test of the students’ learning.” 

According to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, Virginia students must take federal tests in reading and math every year in grades three through eight as well as in reading, math and science in high school.

If the tests are canceled, it will be the first time in 22 years that Virginia students will not take standardized tests at the end of the school year.

Students across the U.S. have taken federal tests each year since the now-defunct No Child Left Behind Act went into effect in 2002. But Virginia launched its own “standards of learning” tests, or SOLs, in 1998, four years before NCLB.

Virginia’s teacher evaluations are in part affected by how students perform on standardized tests.

The moves will not eliminate all standardized testing this year. The waivers will not affect AP, Cambridge or International Baccalaureate tests taken by high school students. Those tests, however, do not keep students from graduating.

There are still a few things that need to happen for the tests to be canceled. In addition to the federal waiver, the state General Assembly likely will need to act to release students from state tests, which are required by state law. 

Lane said state education department staff members are also working through how the COVID-19 closures will affect graduation requirements, the length of the school year, SOL test requirements and teacher licensing, the Virginian-Pilot report said.

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