Are the Standards of Learning tests that students take at the end of each course meant to measure teacher performance? Should they be used this way? They might be this year.


This coming school year many Virginia teachers may be welcomed back to their classrooms with the news that student Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores will become a part of their yearly performance evaluations.  In an effort to secure a waiver from participating in the most burdensome parts of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act, Virginia is working to develop and produce a rigorous accountability plan of its own.  NCLB requirements state that all students must demonstrate grade-level proficiency in math and reading by the year 2014.  In the fall, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that portions of the NCLB law could be waived for states that agree to certain reforms and were able to produce their own alternative plans for accountability.  Virginia submitted an application for a waiver in February.  As a result, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) laid out a set of critiques and needed reforms for Virginia’s system, including that end of grade test scores must be a significant factor in evaluating teachers and principals. Moreover, the DOE recommended that data on student growth, measured at least partially by state tests, should account for 40 percent of teacher performance evaluations.  More information on this and a copy of the letter can be found here:

The state of Virginia received this waver last month by adopting a policy in April that requires school divisions to evaluate teachers based on student progress.  School divisions must vote to approve the new evaluations which add a new “Standard 7,” that will address student academic performance.  The first six standards, which account for 10 percent each, remain the same and are very familiar to educators.  They include: professional knowledge, instructional planning, instructional delivery, assessment of student learning, learning environment, and professionalism.  Virginia school divisions must send the state an outline for how they plan to have this type of review in place by next year.  This new teacher evaluation plan, including Standard 7, has already been approved in King George County.  Spotsylvania County, Stafford County, and Fredericksburg City are studying the new evaluation plans but have not yet voted to implement them, according to the Free Lance Star.  Here are links to the original document from Virginia Department of Education and the Free Lance Star article:

Teacher performance is currently documented through announced or unannounced formal observations, frequent informal observations, walk-through observations, and the creation of an annual portfolio containing teacher performance artifacts and documentation.  The new guidelines recommend that in addition, student surveys (grades 1-12) should also be administered, with the results summarized for the evaluator by the teacher.  In the proposed plan, teachers will also be evaluated based, in part, on student performance which must be measured at 20 percent by their student growth percentile and 20 percent by an approved alternative measure. To calculate the growth percentile, students with statistically similar scaled- scores on their previous year Standards of Learning (SOL) test are compared and growth is then based on comparison to their next grade- level test and assessed as a percentile.  The growth percentile is based on SOL testing scores which are designed to measure student mastery of grade-level standards.  The SOLs measure skill attainment, but do not function as a diagnostic test, and cannot measure progress of students who are not achieving at grade level.  For example if a student reads on a first grade level  at the end of fourth grade and a third grade level at the end of fifth grade, they may fail the fourth and fifth grade SOL, indicating that they are not achieving on grade level, even though they have made excellent progress.       Other examples can be found here:

This plan is sure to come as a shock to a lot of teachers at the beginning of the new school year in a few weeks.  It also leaves a lot of unanswered questions.   Will these new evaluation procedures encourage or discourage teachers from working more extensively with the students who need the most help?   What about classes where a SOL test is not given, how will these teachers be evaluated? Are SOL tests valid measures of teacher performance?  Should special education teachers and those working with academically gifted students be evaluated according to the same criteria, given they work with populations that, for different reasons, often make smaller percentage gains from year to year?  And perhaps the biggest question of all:  What makes a good teacher, what makes a bad one, and what is the best way to assess the difference?  Is it by their student’s test results, or is there a possibility that, like so many things in education, it might be a little less quantifiable?

What are your thoughts and questions about this new BIG change for our teachers?  I would love to hear from you.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Owner | Parrish Learning Zone, LLC

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