VASCD Speaks—Our Occasional Blog

Assessment and Accountability: Time to Move On  by Laurie McCullough, VASCD Executive Director

Last week at my local gym, I ran into a library media specialist who said her school library had been closed for a total of five weeks last year so the space could be used as a testing center.  Just a few days before, I’d read a blog post by Rachel Levy ( in which she described the difficulties associated with opting her third grade son out of the SOL reading test (among these difficulties were that the opt-out resulted in a “refusal/disruption” code and a score of 0). A couple weeks earlier, I’d heard an elementary principal describe an 8-year old’s 8-hour-long struggle with the third grade SOL math test. His teacher drove him home just in time for supper that day.

I find myself wondering what our assessment system is teaching our children about what we value.

The Virginia Standards of Learning were approved in 1995 for good reasons. Our schools needed a level of consistency, transparency, and quality control as well as a focus on all student groups.  These ‘standards’  were all missing at that time. In 1998, when the first SOL tests “counted,”  only 2% of the Commonwealth’s schools met the benchmark for full accreditation.   Although the accreditation benchmark has increased over the years, 93% of Virginia schools were fully accredited in 2013. 

We still need statewide assessment and accountability systems, but it is time to rethink them.  While SOL scores are one indicator of a school’s success, they do not define quality teaching and learning. We must be about real learning, and we must not confuse it with test preparation.

Our world and our communities have seen momentous change since the mid- 1990’s.  We access, process, and apply knowledge in new ways. The global economy is information and innovation-based, and young people need a different kind of preparation for success in the work force.  At the same time, our student population has become more diverse, and in many communities poverty rates have increased dramatically.   All this suggests that teaching and learning must be more personalized, more engaging, and more differentiated.  Students need expert teachers to help them become self-directed in their learning- able to not only access the information they need for a specific purpose, but to curate, critique, and communicate what they are learning. 

I find myself wondering how many opportunities students get in school to do real work.

VASCD’s mission is to advance excellence in teaching, learning, and leadership in the Commonwealth. Our version of excellence is grounded in a whole child approach. It recognizes that while a common set of standards is important, students will reach them in different ways at different times. We believe we must build students’ capacity for reasoning, inventive thinking and investigation; help them gain communication and collaboration skills; and leverage technology to support meaningful learning.  We invite you to join the discussion on our Facebook page and on Twitter. Read, respond to, and write for VASCD Speaks on our website.  Contact your VASCD Regional Representative to ask how you can help advance real excellence in your school and community.  And of course, we hope you’ll join us at the 2013 Annual Conference, themed @modernlearners, December 4-6 in Williamsburg.