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Flat earth folks

Ahh, we have been labelled anew. We are now flat earthers.

Progress on SOLs

Nov 17, 2002

Parents, teachers, administrators - and no doubt many students - were
heartened to see the progress made in the past year on the Standards of
Learning. Almost two-thirds of schools across the state met the benchmark for
full accreditation. The gains represent a big improvement over last year (41
percent of schools) and the year before (23 percent), to say nothing of 1998
- the program's first year, when only 2 percent of schools achieved full
accreditation and critics called on the state to abandon what it had just
begun. Some localities (such as Hanover and Goochland) now have every school
fully accredited; others (such as Petersburg, with zero out of 10 schools
fully accredited) have a great deal of work yet to do. With assistance from
programs such as Governor Mark Warner's PASS initiative, one day they too
will attain that distinction.

The improvements redound to the credit of just about all. The best gains
generally have come in areas where administrators embraced the SOLs from the
start. But improvement has come even amid grousing. For that Virginians can
thank officials on the state Board of Education who never wavered in their
commitment to make the program work. Former board president Kirk Schroder
took a tremendous amount of incoming fire, and the barrage has not entirely
abated. It is true the state lowered the passing scores on four of the tests.
But the move was appropriate, and results elsewhere validate the essential
soundness of the SOL program. Virginia students continue to make gains on
other standardized tests, such as the National Assessment of Educational
Progress. They would not be doing so if the SOLs were leading them astray.

There remain a handful of flat-Earthers who have been fundamentally opposed
to measurable standards and accountability (despite pro forma endorsements of
those concepts in the abstract) since the SOLs' inception. Not surprisingly,
they greeted the news about the latest improvements with sour grumbles about
"accreditation-inflation schemes." The very critics who protested that the
passing scores were too high now apparently feel they are not high enough.
They dismiss student improvement on other tests (such as the NAEP) and
display none of the flexibility and accommodation they demand from state
officials. No system is perfect, and the SOLs did need tweaking. But
students' continuing gains in a program that officials keep improving is
rapidly rendering the hard-core oppositionists irrelevant.

Virginia has led the way on standards and accountability. Years of effort are
bearing fruit with one of the best and most emulated programs in the land.
Plenty of work remains ahead - but this year's results show those involved
with education they have reason for pride.

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