Down the Rabbit Hole

If the SOLs were just a silly children's story -- "Through the SOL-Looking Glass" -- we could all have some cheap laughs and marvel at the clever tricks and loopholes the folks at the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) have devised to prevent the evenhanded application of SOL's as a tool to achieve accountability.

But, trying to make sense of VDOE's byzantine policies, rules and regulations concerning SOLs is no laughing matter. And, the costs -- both in terms of dollars and the common good -- are anything but cheap.

More's the pity since it appears that VDOE officials and the State Board of Education have managed to take what began as a noble effort to inject much needed transparency and accountability into Virginia's public schools, and twist it into a madding mish-mash of complicated conundrums, exemptions and waivers worthy of a "grand vizier."

A posting by "Tom" on the RVANews.com site said it best: "The purpose of publishing the collective SOL results of any given school or district is to see how that school’s students and school systems performed, not to gauge the performance of kids who happen to live in the neighborhood but chose not to attend the school. Proper measurement is a management tool and encourages accountability."

An example of just how twisted and topsy-turvy things have become in VDOE Wonderland, is revealed by the way they define what it means to be “a school.”

VDOE and the various school superintendents who constitute Maggie Walker’s Governing Board evidently see nothing wrong with refusing to recognize the Governor's Schools as official "schools," a recognition that would allow these outstanding schools to report and claim the scores their students earn on SOLS and be among those honored as “The Best Schools in America” by Newsweek and U.S World News & World Report.

Why? VDOE’s policy is that the SOL scores earned by students at the Governor's Schools are given back to the Superintendents in the various districts where the Superintendents then (incredibly) apply those scores to the public high schools nearest where the Governor's School student lives.

How is this NOT fraudulent on both a state and federal level?

Once again, "Tom" on the RVANews.com website, nailed it: “[This policy] makes about as much sense as a Chevy dealer’s reporting as revenue purchases made from Toyota because the Toyota customer lives closer to the Chevy dealership.

"VDOE’s method of measuring and reporting a school’s supposed SOL scores simply insures that the data, which all districts in Virginia spend fortunes to collect, has very little reliability or usefulness. The various superintendents contend that since they must tap their own budgets to “buy” seats at the Governor’s Schools, that they are entitled to the SOL scores of the students who are accepted to attend."

In a dizzying display of incoherence rivaling the infamous Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, VDOE’s policy makers have declared that the SOL scores earned by the children who are assigned to "disciplinary" or "alternative" schools or programs are captured in such a way that those scores do not reflect back on the school that asked that the student be sent to the disciplinary school.

Further, these “discipline” schools and programs have a different set of SOL benchmarks to meet than those administered to either students at the Governor’s Schools or to comprehensive high schools in the home districts.

Simply for discussion purposes, compare and contrast the way VDOE and the BOE view Maggie L. Walker Governor's School and the Capitol Choice Program (CCP).

The SOL scores for Maggie Walker students go back to the public high schools in those students' "home" districts. Never mind that the children at the Governor's Schools (in most cases) have never even set foot in those public high schools and will not for the four years they spend in high school. Never mind that children who attend the Governor's Schools earn diplomas from the Governor's School -- and not the school that benefits from receiving their SOL scores.

This is the place where things get even “curiouser and curiouser”.

In contrast, SOL scores for tests taken at CCP stay at CCP. Never mind that the stated goal of the CCP "program" is to return their students to their home schools. Never mind that since there are no 12th-graders officially assigned to CCP and that there has never been a formal "graduation" ceremony for CCP students, nor any diplomas given from the program.

The only sensible conclusion from this perversion of the data is that VDOE is more interested in pleasing local Superintendents than in obtaining useful -- and honest -- information from the SOL testing.