Seven students sat around the table in the principal’s conference room at Landstown High School (LHS). Their eyes were transfixed on a small laptop screen, where the face of Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton smiled back brightly at them.
Holton was hosting a special Google Hangout to talk with students across the state about their experiences with SOL testing. Landstown was one of six schools selected to take part in the online conversation. And, students wasted no time affirming Holton had made a great choice in picking Landstown.
“Our school, Landstown High School, is amazing,” said Mystique Owens. “I love my school.”
Joining the Landstown student contingent, two students from Hickory High School in Chesapeake traveled to LHS to take part in the Hangout.
After brief introductions, Holton asked a series of questions about how SOLs are handled at their school: how long until they get their results? How much time is spent in the classroom on SOLs? Is that the right amount of time?
The students did not hold back.
They reported they received their unofficial results within a few weeks of taking the test, but that was not ideal.
“I feel like this works, but I feel like we should get them faster so we can learn from them and close the gap of what we don’t know before we move on to the next course,” Alyssa Nacman said.
And, as for how much time is spent on the actual class? Well, students said that depends on the teacher and the subject.
Vyom Patel noted he has some teachers that start teaching what’s on the SOL from the first day of school. Others will teach the curriculum throughout the year and wait until about a month out to begin a more SOL-focused review. He added that some teachers have different approaches because of the different demands they face.
“With English, you don’t take the SOL until 11th grade,” Patel said. “With that you have (years of) skills coming to the SOL. With classes like history and science, it’s more, what’s going to be on the SOL (that year).”
“(There is) a little more freedom in the subjects you’re not testing every year?” Holton asked.
The students all nodded and gave thumbs up in unison.
Later, Holton asked for suggestions on how to make the SOL system better.
“The tests should have more real life applications that show we have the knowledge instead of memorizing (facts),” said Ashley Leidy.
Classmate Justice Baird agreed.
He added the tests should be more comprehensive and include ways for the students to showcase what they have learned.
“We thought if there were more critical thinking (questions), we could actually use the knowledge in the future.”
Baird also helped to wrap up Landstown’s time by again reinforcing the need to have more immediate and constructive feedback from test results so students can see where they need to improve.
“The SOL is too focused on whether you pass or fail, but not what we’re struggling with.”