Reveals Some Promise, Many Problems As Virginia Schools Strive To
25, 2000 -- Although
many students have mastered Virginias Standards of Learning,
serious problems have risen from efforts to guide SOL instruction,
according to a new study of 16 high schools across the state.
study undertaken by the Thomas Jefferson Center for Educational
Design at the University of Virginia shows that schools have responded
to the SOLs in diverse ways. The schools reactions are described
in a new center publication, "Initial Responses of Virginia
High Schools to the Accountability Initiative."
investigation detected a number of promising developments as well
as some potential problems," said center director Daniel L.
Duke. "It is still possible to address and correct the problems
before the first students are denied a diploma and the first schools
lose their accreditation."
most positive indicator among the schools studied is that nearly
all of them increased the students passing rates on tests
measuring knowledge of English, mathematics, history and science.
Such schools were characterized by a heightened level of cooperation
among teachers and administrators and pride in the rise in student
the schools in the study had examined and revised their curricula
in the SOL areas, with the subject of mathematics being changed
the most. Other promising results included increased quality control
and development of special programs.
study reveals numerous areas that threaten to diminish the effectiveness
of the accountability initiative. Such problem areas include:
of course content and instructional practice,
of school climate,
of school organization,
representatives investigated the schools early responses to
the Standards of Learning in four areas: local policies, practices,
programs and personnel. The study was carried out by conducting
interviews with high school principals in addition to evaluating
surveys of the principals perceptions of the impact of the
accountability measures and reviewing documents, including each
schools "report card" on the SOL tests.
types of high schools were identified: low need/high ability, low
need/low ability, high need/low ability and high need/high ability.
A total of 16 schools, four in each category, were studied in fall
1999 and winter 2000. Because principals were assured of confidentiality,
individual schools in the survey cannot be identified, Duke said.
schools facing the greatest challenge from the accountability initiative
are the high need/low ability schools the ones with relatively
poor student performance on state tests and relatively low levels
of financial resources," Duke said.
researchers found ample evidence that teachers, knowing that they
will be judged on how well their students perform on the SOL tests,
tend to concentrate on the SOL objectives. At the same time, teachers
of honors and advanced courses expressed fear that if students focus
too much on the basic knowledge represented by the SOL objectives,
they will be poorly prepared for handling challenging courses.
of the studys most significant findings is that the majority
of schools reported assigning their most capable teachers to teach
courses in which students took the SOLs," Duke said.
researchers found that the message this sends to teachers of non-SOL
courses is that they are less important. This adds to the stress
already being felt in the schools.
researchers found that overall teachers and administrators experience
increased pressure to help students pass the SOL tests. As a consequence,
most principals acknowledged significant stress and pointed out
that some teachers are choosing to retire early.
study also shows that high schools, in order to reallocate resources
to strengthen instruction in SOL courses, have eliminated electives
and lower-track courses that do not lead to graduation credits.
The principals said, for example, that enrollment in vocational
programs has declined.
too early to tell what effect diminished choice in courses will
have on students," Duke said.
to reporters: For copies of the report, contact the Thomas Jefferson
Center for Educational Design at (804) 982-2866. For more information
on the study, contact Daniel Duke at (804) 924-3979.
Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857