SD11 - Report of the SJR 385 Commission on Educational Accountability

Executive Summary:


First established by the 1999 Session of the General Assembly pursuant to SJR 498, the Commission on Educational Accountability was continued by the 2001 Session of the General Assembly pursuant to SJR 385. Assisted by the HJR 566 (1999) Task Force Task Force on the Educational Needs of the 21st Century; the HJR 723 (1999) Task Force on the Impact of the Standards of Accreditation on Local School Division Budgets; and the HJR 302 (2000) Task Force to Examine the Need for Appropriate Alternative Forms of Standards of Learning Assessments for Students Receiving Special Education and Related Services, the Commission has produced two reports: Senate Document No. 52 (2000) and Senate Document No. 36 (2001).


Consistent with its original directives to "review the Standards of Accreditation(SOA) and any included accountability mechanisms" and to "monitor the implementation of the Standards of Learning (SOL) and revised assessments," the Commission reviewed a variety of issues related to testing, graduation requirements, and school accreditation.

"Multiple Criteria" Supplementing the SOL Assessments. Figuring prominently in the Commission's work in 2001 was consideration of recent legislative actions addressing multiple criteria for school accreditation, graduation, and promotion and retention and redemption. Recommended by a special subcommittee of the House Education Committee in 2001 was HB 2163, which ultimately failed to pass. The bill provided for the awarding of additional credit to be counted toward attaining a particular accreditation status for a disparity in SOL scores of majority and minority students of ten points or fewer that results from increased assessment scores of all students and the percentage of teachers assigned to positions for which they are endorsed. SOL scores would count for no more than three-quarters of in calculating a school's accreditation rating. Additional measures introduced in the 2001 Session addressed the use of SOL assessments within diploma requirements, the inclusion of SOL test scores of certain students for school accreditation purposes, retaking of SOL assessments, independent evaluation of the SOL assessment process, and other issues.

Test Security Procedures. Test security procedures are designed to ensure that test scores are an accurate reflection of student performance and that no student is unfairly advantaged in taking the particular test. To ensure limited access to test items, SOL test booklets are secured when not in use; transmittal forms are completed to document chain of custody. Test booklets remain under lock and key until test day, when test examiners remove shrink-wrapped test packages. Examiner agreements indicate the tester will not divulge test contents, copy any portion of the test, or permit test access to unauthorized persons.

Academic Review Teams. Academic Review Teams visited 211 schools accredited with warning between November 15, 2000 and February 27, 2001. The teams prepared are port for each school detailing strengths, noting areas requiring improvement, and suggestions for school improvement planning. Curriculum alignment--the match between the Standards of Learning curriculum and local written curriculum taught in the classroom--was cited as an area of improvement in 87 percent of the reviewed schools. Other frequently identified areas were the use of time and school scheduling practices; use of data to make instructional and planning decisions; and professional development opportunities.

Public Perceptions of the SOL Assessments and Public Education. According to the May 2001 Commonwealth Education Poll, conducted by VCU's Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute (CEPI), a majority of respondents--52 percent--indicated the "positive impact" of education reform in Virginia; 16 percent of respondents indicated the SOL tests have supported school improvement "a lot," while 36 percent indicate these tests have helped "a little." Forty-four percent of respondents are very or somewhat confident that the SOL assessments are "an accurate indicator of student progress and school achievement"; 46 percent have little or no confidence in the validity of the tests. Identified by an overwhelming 82 percent of respondents as critical to improving student achievement was smaller class size. About 70 percent of respondents feel school funding is insufficient. Perceived areas of most critical need included teacher salaries and school construction and maintenance. Lack of parental involvement is perceived as the most pressing challenge in public education, followed by overcrowded classrooms.

Educator Perspectives: Practices Leading to Success on the SOL Assessments. A study by the Department of Education Governor's Best Practices Centers identified 16 effective practices for SOL test performance in 26 schools. Included among most important were assessment; curriculum alignment; curriculum mapping and pacing; data analysis; intervention strategies; leadership; and student motivation. Of these seven, leadership was identified most frequently. Other best practices were administrative support; class room instruction; community and parent support; use of research-based programs; schedule considerations; school-wide focus on test success; staff development; teacher planning accommodations; and effective use of technology.

Other Assessments of Student Performance: NAEP Scores. Virginia fourth and eighth graders posted gains in mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In 1992, 19 percent of fourth graders achieved mathematics scores of "proficient"; that portion increased to 25 percent in 2000. Reflecting a nine percent in crease from 1990, 26 percent of eighth graders achieved the "proficient" rating in mathematics in 2000. Virginia's gains in student performance are "significant," according to NAEP.

Career and Technical Education. To facilitate use of industry certifications or licensure for student-selected verified units of credit for high school graduation, the Board of Education approved 63 certification examinations in April, 2001. These verified units apply not to the "core" subjects of English, mathematics, science, and history, but to various student-selected tests in technology and other areas. Approved substitute tests for core academic subjects include, among others, International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement tests. The need for adequate state and other funding for CTE equipment continues; while business partnerships may make available industry equipment and tools as well as internships, schools themselves need equipment on-site for student learning.

Increasing Capacity for Teachers. Consistent with its original study directive to exmaine ways to increase the capacity of teachers, the Commission reviewed two measures that the 2001 Session declined to pass. Both measures addressed teacher quality: one through recruitment and retention incentives, and the other through teacher preparation. HB 2823 would have established the Educators' Higher Education Opportunity Program, comprised of the voluntary contributions of full-time, licensed educators to fund savings trust accounts pursuant to the Virginia College Savings Plan. Also examined was SJR 357, which would have requested the Joint Task Force on the K-12 Teaching Profession in Virginia ,jointly established by the State Council for Higher Education. and the Board in fall, 2000, to "examine the staffing levels in the teacher education programs in the colleges and universities."


Directed to carry forward the work of the joint subcommittee on remediation, the Commission explored year-round school calendars and related remediation issues. From an initial six schools in two divisions in 1997, the number of schools offering a year-round initiative grew to 33 for the 2001-02 school year. Situated in 11 divisions, the majority of the initiatives are in elementary schools. The calendars typically use "45-15" schedule, providing 45 instructional days, followed by a 15-day break used as an "intersession" for remediation or enrichment opportunities.

A review of 31 studies of the effect of summer school on the achievement of at-risk secondary students in 12 states indicated high school and elementary school students showed greater gains than did middle school students. Students of middle- and high-socioeconomic status showed greater improvement. Program characteristics contributing to effectiveness were focus on deficiencies; required rather than voluntary attendance; smaller class size; individualized, rather than group, instruction; parental involvement; licensed, rather than unlicensed, teachers; and collaborative planning.


Continuing its pursuit of a wide range of education reform issues in its third year of study, the Commission determined that ensuring educational accountability for Virginia's public schools remains a critical concern. Therefore, the Commission has agreed upon the following recommendations:

Recommendation 1: That the Board of Education, with the assistance of the Department of Education and the Accountability Advisory Committee, continue to examine the use of multiple criteria to supplement the Standards of Learning assessments for purposes of school accreditation, graduation requirements, and promotion/retention policies.

Recommendation 2: That the Commission on Educational Accountability be continued for one additional year.