Why We Must Go Beyond the SOLs

OK … so my 16-year old stays up late last night … the night before his SOL exam for his summer online US History course. Is he diligently studying the material he covered the last few weeks, making sure he can recall key concepts and events like he did for his mid-term and his final exam?  No.  He’s busy catching up with his friends that he hasn’t seen for all of two weeks. When I reminded him of the SOL exam, he simply shrugged and said; “It’s the SOL dad, it’s not like it is hard.  Don’t worry I’ll make enough for Pass Advanced.”

From the mouths of babes comes some truth; even ‘babes’ with a size 12 foot who can carb load 2,000 calories of Cinnamon Toast Crunch at a single sitting.  

If we want to call ourselves a World Class Education provider, then we should provide a world class education.  That means going beyond the essentials and expecting more of our students.  There is plenty of research out there that confirms that the first step in raising student achievement is simply expecting them to achieve more. We should extend learning beyond the basics. We need to evaluate our curriculum not only against the SOL requirements but also against those of the school divisions our students will compete against as they are finishing high school.

We congratulate ourselves when we have high SOL pass rates. There are always students that for one reason or another have difficulties with the SOL exams. There are some years where the exam is just harder than usual. So we should be pleased when the pass rates are high and getting higher. But we must be careful not to break our arms patting ourselves on the back.  

The truth of the matter is that the SOL exams are minimum competency exams. These are the expectations for all students across the state.  If a student can demonstrate understanding of 2/3 of these objectives on the exam, they pass.

This past spring, the administration proposed adopting the SOL Curriculum Frameworks as our curriculum.  The logic behind this “SOL only” proposal is that the state has increased the rigorof the SOLs and that adopting the Frameworks is a default increase for our curriculum.  This greatly concerned me and I made my concerns public.  I proposed that our staff should benchmark the proposed curriculum with neighboring jurisdictions and then present the results to us in September.  My proposal was adopted unanimously by my fellow School Board members.

 If you care about expecting more of our county students than the SOL minimums, then I hope you’ll support me in pushing for instructional programming that challenges even the best students.  We want our students to graduate with the extended knowledge and skills that will allow them to compete in the workforce of the future.

My son took his SOL exam this morning. He said “It was easy.” He’s pretty confident that he scored well enough to get a Pass Advanced. I guess we’ll see in a few weeks.

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