Mathews School Superintendent Dr. David Holleran discussed the nature of the new Virginia Standards of Learning tests during his monthly report to the board of supervisors on May 28.
Holleran said the new math tests are much more difficult than previous SOL tests, and that the state expects that many schools won’t pass the tests because of the changes.
"They’ve amped the rigor up to almost college level," he said, adding that tests in some instances generated a pass rate of 92 percent before the change and 14 percent afterward. He said third and fourth graders across the state are spending as much as seven hours taking a 40-question test.
"We’re doing everything we can to help the kids," he said.
Questioned by supervisor Neena Putt about the tests, Holleran explained that the new math tests place a lot of emphasis on higher-level thinking skills and require that students not simply choose A, B, C or D but that they work out problems with multiple steps and derive an independent answer.
As an example, he said that in the past, finding the area of a geometric shape required multiplying the length times the width and picking the correct answer from several listed.
With the new computerized tests, however, the student is given real-world information and is expected to use a multi-step process if necessary to figure out what’s needed. He might be given an image of an entire room, for instance, and told that three-fourths of the room needs to be carpeted, beginning with the back wall. Such a problem requires that the student figure out the correct mathematical process, i.e., multiplication, then determine the area of the room, then figure the area that needs carpeting, and then write in the answer rather than choosing one answer from among several provided.
"If you do all the ciphering correctly but put inches instead of feet, you get it wrong," said Holleran.