Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Education reforms in Virginia

Reposted from the DailyPress:

Education reform moving forward

Monty Mason and Rob Krupicka

For much of the last year we heard a constant drumbeat for the need to adjust and reform certain elements of our K-12 educational system. Reforming the Standards of Learning tests, letter grades for schools, and even state takeover of failing schools have been proposed. In this session of the Virginia General Assembly we have focused on many education initiatives.
SOL testing reform, HB930, passed through the Virginia House of Delegates unanimously last week. The bill, which we co-patroned, would reduce the number of SOL tests in kindergarten through eighth grade by more than 20 percent and provide increased flexibility to local school boards through the use of authentic performance assessments. By replacing certain SOL tests with more robust and flexible assessment tools, we allow for creativity and flexibility in the classroom, while still having confidence that content is being taught. This will ensure students are making progress and learning the critical thinking skills they need to compete in today’s economy.

The reform effort also establishes a Standards of Learning Innovation Committee to set in motion a process of continual innovation in state assessments to consistently look at ways to improve Virginia’s testing and assessment methods. We expect high school tests, which were not included in the SOL reform effort, to be the first place examined for opportunities to innovate.
We have worked and will continue to work closely with our historical assets in Virginia like Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown to make sure this new system does not impact the important focus on our history. Done properly, the new focus on authentic assessments will enable teachers to do much more compelling projects and activities with their students and should increase the opportunity for students to learn social studies, science and all of the subjects.
Last year the General Assembly passed the A-F grading system for schools. The concept is based on the idea that it should be very easy to compare and evaluate our local schools. Unfortunately, one grade is an overly simplistic solution to analyze the many complex issues in our schools when we already have an accreditation system that works well. Our superintendents are uniformly against the basic grading scale, not because they do not want to be evaluated, but the methodology is questionable, and there is no consideration given to socio-economic conditions. We introduced legislation to delay the A-F system for three years, but a one-year delay was passed. While we are disappointed, this is a start, and we will work with superintendents and teachers to come up with better metrics that properly show the progress being made in our schools.
Finally, there is a lot of uncertainty about the Opportunity Education Institute, which was created last year to take over failing schools. While we agree that we need to do more to ensure all students have access to a good education, we don’t believe this approach works. The OEI would take local tax dollars in order to manage a taken over school, but there would be no local accountability or input into how those funds would be spent. Taking parents and the community out of a school isn’t a good solution. We are working with our colleagues in the Senate and the governor to encourage the defunding of the OEI and to take a step back and analyze alternative approaches.
Making sure we have engaging and successful schools in Virginia is one of our top priorities. We are making progress this year, and we are encouraged by the bipartisan spirit behind much of this work.

Delegates Mason (D-Williamsburg) and Krupicka (D-Alexandria) are members of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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