Richmond schools announce new ‘open minded, opened book’ testing format for SOLs

Richmond public schools are transitioning to what officials are calling a very “forward-thinking, open minded, and open book” format for students on this year’s Standards of Learning assessments in hopes of improving scores on the annual exams.

The revised test-taking methods – described by superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman as “letting children use notes, textbooks or, if needed, the teacher’s answer key” – is expected to help Richmond’s 51 schools reach full accreditation, up from its current level of 80 percent.

“For years, many of our children have been left behind with scores that were below average levels across the state,” Jewell-Sherman said.  “We’ve simply figured out a way to help these students succeed in their lives by squeezing out a few more points per child to reach that much-prized 100 percent mark. 

Added the superintendent: “Quite frankly, I’m not sure why we didn’t think of this before.”

The revised format for taking SOLs is part of the Richmond School Board’s “Best Ideas Ever” initiative, a conceptual framework established earlier this year to help students succeed by any means possible – including methods that until now would have resulted in serious ethical concerns, student disciplinary action or possible expulsion.

“In keeping with that open mind, our students will be encouraged to improve necessary communication skills by the free exchange of information during the testing period,” Jewell-Sherman said, “such as talking to one another to decide which of the four answer bubbles to fill in is best.”

Teachers will also be responsible for positioning their class’ smartest child – and his or her test – within eye distance from all other students, Jewell-Sherman said, “so that all pupils will have a more fair chance at helping us reach full accreditation.”

The writing portion of the SOLs will include pre-written paragraphs that will contain “only a few” grammatical errors to help the booklets more easily slide by the Virginia Department of Education during the grading process, she said.  In addition, all scrap paper for math problems will be scratched with answers and copied for all students prior to the exams “to streamline the problem-solving process,” she said.

Officials are also exploring the use of text-messaging alerts system that will offer assistance to those children who are having difficulty during the exams.

The measures follow a similar set of initiatives set by the School Board in 2006, when all learning-disabled students were given a box full of non-learning abilities and gifted students were rewarded with the then-new video iPod as an additional gift.


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