Standards of Learning tests were implemented in the mid-1990s and have since used exclusively multiple choice questions, except in the writing section. Starting next school year, ninth-graders in Rockingham County won’t take SOLs for their social studies courses. Instead, they’ll be required to take Performance-Based Assessments to replace the SOLs.
The Performance-Based Assessments are in the process of being finalized. They’re aimed at providing the students with a more engaging educational experience. According to Oskar Scheikl, the superintendent of Rockingham County Public Schools, SOLs encourage low-level thinking while PBAs allow students to learn skills that will be applicable after high school.
“What the work world of the future requires is if the students can imply skills that they have acquired in one area and really transfer those to other areas and be creative in how they approach a particular problem,” Scheikl said.
Tenth through 12th grade students will still be required to take the SOLs. However, they’ll take the PBAs twice over the course of the next school year as well. According to Beau Dickenson, the social studies supervisor of RCPS, this will allow those who’ve had less experience with these types of assessments an opportunity to understand the PBAs.
According to Larry Shifflett, assistant superintendent of innovation and learning in RCPS, Rockingham County plans to achieve this by constructing PBAs to incorporate knowledge that applies to the individual subject as well as critical thinking skills. PBAs will differ from regular projects because of the heavy critical thinking involved, going beyond knowledge of the subject.
Students will be given a task or asked to create a project related to the subject. According to Dickenson, this’ll eliminate the issue of students solely memorizing information. Instead, it’ll allow them to apply their knowledge to the task they’re assigned. An example of a social studies PBA includes a two-part assessment in which students are tasked to analyze a map as well as categorize and evaluate images.
“It compels students to think critically about the content that they’re learning about,” Dickenson said. “They’re not just learning content for the sake of memorizing content — they’re learning to build skills and apply knowledge.”
The progression to PBAs has been gradual; each school district in Virginia has spent the past three years investigating the best way to incorporate the assessments in their schools. Meetings between teachers and the administration staff have been conducted to provide feedback and different opinions.
In an effort to transition to PBAs, several SOLs have been disbanded, including third grade science, fifth grade writing and sixth and seventh grade social studies. As a result, students have begun to engage in a learning environment that’s less driven by SOLs and is more project based.
“I see it benefiting the classroom from an instructional standpoint and also benefiting the students on how they are engaged,” Shifflett said. “Not just passive consumers of information ... but that they begin to construct their own understanding of material.”
Since they’ll be projects, multiple teachers will have to evaluate each PBA and fill out a grading rubric. The teachers will be given rubrics so that the scoring will be kept in a moderate range between graders. Unlike the SOL tests, PBAs will take place over an indefinite period of time instead of one sitting.
“The important part is that the projects are designed so that they are appropriate for the students in that subject area in that grade level,” Scheikl said. “That’s why there’s a lot of work involved to show that you have a level of validity and reliability.”
According to Shifflett, the main goal for the PBAs is to benefit the students learning experience. Another goal is to allow teachers to engage with students more effectively, since they won’t have to focus on certain aspects of their curriculum due to SOL frameworks.
The Virginia Department of Education states that the curriculum frameworks for core subjects must, “detail the specific knowledge and skills students must possess to meet the standards for these subjects.”
Since courses are currently structured around SOL standards, the elimination will allow teachers to have more freedom in the classroom.
“Hopefully we can see teachers roles shifting over the years and they can be more of a facilitator in guiding students and helping them in their learning,” Shifflett said. “That’s one of the outcomes I hope will benefit the student and also benefit how instructions will change.”
Teachers throughout the state of Virginia have been tasked with a surplus of review sessions at the end of the school year for SOLs. Due to this, they must focus their teaching on the standardized test — information that’ll be mentioned on the test is priority opposed to information that won’t be asked on the test.
“We have had our hands cuffed to a degree,” Dickinson said. “Multiple choice testing is good for accountability, but it’s not great for instruction in the classroom. It’s refreshing to see the state government caught up to us.”
Contact Katelyn Waltemyer at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.