RICHMOND — Schools whose third-grade students are struggling in reading will qualify for a testing exemption on another subject under a bill that passed a Virginia House subcommittee this morning.
The goal is to allow those schools – 38 throughout the Commonwealth – to focus on reading instruction, said Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta County, who sponsored the measure (HB2144).
The legislation would allow any school where less than 75 percent of the third-grade students passed the Standards of Learning reading assessment to apply for a waiver on one of the other third-grade SOL subjects – either science or history and social science – for two years. Schools that received a warning with their accreditation based on the adjusted pass rate for their third-grade SOL reading scores also would qualify.
The proposal would require schools that receive the waiver to hire a full-time reading specialist to work with its third-graders. There’s already money in the budget to help schools fund that position, said Secretary of Education Laura Fornash.
The schools would still have to teach and test their students on the waived subject, but would not have to participate in the SOL exam, Fornash said.
The pilot program would expire in 2016.
The bill prompted debate in the House Education Subcommittee on Standards of Quality regarding whether it’s time for legislators to reevaluate the SOL system altogether. The subcommittee approved the bill 7-2.
“Maybe we just need to reevaluate the whole test if we’re going to keep granting waivers,” said Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania County, who voted against the bill. “I just don’t understand how that’s going to help improve quality and education and help these kids achieve better.”
Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William County, agreed, saying many of the parents in his district are unhappy with the state’s standardized tests.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of testing,” Lingamfelter said. “I think it’s a matter of how much time the teacher has to teach … We have filled up the rucksacks of our teachers with so much stuff that sometimes it’s difficult for them to focus on anything else.”
Proponents of the bill, including Fornash, on behalf of Gov. Bob McDonnell, the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia State Reading Association and the Virginia Association of School Superintendants, cited statistics showing that students who fall behind in reading are much more likely to drop out of school.
“We’ve reached a plateau in some of these schools and the achievement gap is still in front of us,” said Deputy Secretary of Education Javaid Saddiqi. “What we’re talking about is trying to get the system up to par with the reading level … If they can’t read, they’re not going to pass any SOLs, and that’s the importance of this legislation.”
– Kathy Adams, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot