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Daily Editorial

Sept. 25, 2000

Blame the test, not the students

Those who do not learn from their U.S. history SOL mistakes

are doomed to repeat them. And we’re not talking about Virginia’s students

here; we’re talking about the makers of the test.

That’s right. It’s the test that’s the problem, not the


How else are we expected to understand why only 39 percent

of Virginia students passed last spring’s state Standards of Learning exam

on U.S. history?

Of the 27 SOL exams, which cover various subjects and grade

levels, the high school U.S. history test is the only one that was flunked

by most of the Virginia students who took it last spring.

There are several explanations floating around for this

educational anomaly.

Most teachers who have been asked to explain the poor test

results say the U.S. history SOL contains very narrow questions drawn from

a large body of material.

Lynn Davies, who chairs the history department at Fairfax’s

Westfield High School, pointed out that the state lists more than 400 pieces

of what it considers to be “essential knowledge” in U.S. history,

and the test of that knowledge consists of 75 questions.

“Trying to figure out what is most important to focus

on is impossible,” said Davies.

John Myers, who teachers U.S. history at Fairfax’s Edison

High School, expressed disappointment at the multiple-choice test questions.

There were no questions on the American Revolution or the

Civil War, but there was a question about the names of women’s military

units in World War II, Myers noted.

“It’s a very difficult test written at a very high

level,” Myers said.

Are these educators just whining? We don’t think so.

Why did 75 percent of Virginia’s high school students pass

the SOL test in world history to 1000 A.D., and 60 percent pass the test

in world history from 1000 A.D. to the present?

One additional explanation is that students must get 66

percent of the questions right on the U.S. history exam, compared with

54 percent and 57 percent, respectively, on the two world history tests.

Virginia Board of Education President Kirk T. Schroder

said the state board set a higher standard in U.S. history because it felt

the subject was unusually important.

Schroder also said that an advisory committee to the state

board is reviewing the history standards and will recommend changes next

month. But Schroder said the situation is not yet serious enough to pull

the exam.

Nearby Loudoun County schools Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick

III disagrees. He says the state should stop giving the U.S. history exam

until it determines what’s wrong.

We have to agree with Hatrick. This problem is already

obvious and serious enough to warrant immediate action.

Since students starting with the class of 2004 will have

to pass at least six of the 12 high school SOL tests to graduate, there’s

no time to waste. The students deserve a better test than this one, and

they deserve it right away.

We also agree with teachers who say the state should add

open-ended essay questions to the U.S. history exam so students can better

utilize their analytical skills.

As time goes by, and as more test data becomes available,

we predict more and more changes will be necessary in Virginia’s flawed

SOL testing program.

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