Richmond Times-Dispatch

Virginia waives some SOL requiremen­ts because of pandemic

- BY KENYA HUNTER

State education officials on Thursday decided to ease several testing and graduation requiremen­ts to reduce stress and limit the need for in-person assessment­s during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under emergency guidance approved by the Virginia Board of Education, Superinten­dent of Public Instructio­n James Lane and Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, elementary and middle school students won’t have to take history or writing Standards of Learning tests, which are mandated by the state.

The U.S. Education Department has been reluctant to waive math

and reading tests, meaning students still are on track for some standardiz­ed tests.

The tests — normally administer­ed in the spring but canceled last school year as classrooms were shuttered — are often used to determine a school’s need for state interventi­on and its state accreditat­ion rating, which are also effectivel­y on pause.

Although most Virginia school systems are operating in somemodifi­ed model due to COVID-19, the Standards of Learning assessment­s have to be administer­ed in person. In September, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sent a letter to state schools chiefs saying they should not expect any further waivers for the federally mandated tests.

Virginia is not alone in providing or seeking modificati­ons as schools across the country grapple with the logistical and emotional toll of teaching students through screens or in person but at a distance, with personal protective equipment.

In Indiana, the state teachers associatio­n has called for a cancellati­on of state testing. The teachers union in Massachuse­tts also urged the federal and state government­s to waive testing.

In Virginia, local school systems may use their own assessment to determine growth in place of the standardiz­ed tests the state waived.

“The waivers and emergency guidance will simplify the logistics of SOL testing this year and ensure that [the] COVID19 pandemic does not unduly prevent any student from earning a diploma,” Lane said in a statement.

As of Thursday, just 15 out of Virginia’s 132 school divisions were operating on a fully in-person schedule. Most other localities were operating in some form of hybrid instructio­n. Thirty-five were fully remote.

Along with this, officials relaxed some requiremen­ts for end-of-course testing and lifted a ceiling on the number of locally awarded verified credits a school system can award in a given year.

“The emergency guidance approved today is in keeping with the commitment the Board of Education made during the beginning of the pandemic in March to do everything possible to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on students and schools,” board President Daniel Gecker said.

This year, state lawmakers granted emergency authority to waive a rule that required students to attempt passing an end-of-course SOL in history before becoming eligible to earn locally awarded verified credits, according to a release.

However, if a locality is unable to provide its own local performanc­e assessment­s, that locality must require an SOL assessment.

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