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Posted at 7:12 PM ET, 02/15/2010

In Va., a better approach to AP participation

By editors

By Karl Ackerman

As a father of two children in Virginia public high schools and a Parent Teacher Organization officer, I read with interest the comments of Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright on the role of the Virginia Standards of Learning program in preparing students for Advanced Placement courses [“Md. leads in a key AP test ranking,” Metro, Feb. 11].

Ms. Wright said, “More of our young people are ready for the challenge of AP courses because of the Standards of Learning program, which has raised the instructional floor for all students.” My observations in the past 13 years lead to a different conclusion.

SOL tests do not promote the critical-thinking skills required for success in AP courses. These tests are at best a minimal standard. For struggling students, they are a low bar to be cleared by rote learning and practice in test-taking skills.

A better approach to promoting AP participation among these students: Boost reading and math skills and encourage enrollment in honors-level courses. For high-achieving students, SOL tests interfere with time better spent studying for AP classes. If AP participation is the goal, high school students who consistently pass SOL tests and who are now enrolled in one or more AP courses should be exempt from additional SOL testing, thus freeing them for higher-level study.

By editors  | February 15, 2010; 7:12 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Virginia, schools  
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The same mistake that I saw through 26 years in Testing in Fairfax is made by Mr. Ackerman. Ms. Wright referred to the Standards of Learning (SOL) "Program" not the SOL tests. Because of the emphasis on testing most people automatically think "tests" when they see SOL. But the SOL Program is the instructional system and guidelines for the state of Virginia. It delineates what all children in Virginia should be taught and must learn. This is a huge difference from what are admittedly a large number of minimal standards tests.

Posted by: raydiroll | February 16, 2010 8:03 AM | Report abuse

As a former FCPS student who started before SOL was implemented and graduated after they were implemented, I can guarantee you that SOLs both as a test and a program negatively impact high performing students directly and likely have a negative impact on the development good students over time.

Posted by: quandary87 | February 16, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I laughed so hard (I'm still laughing) when I saw the comments of Ms. Wright. SOl's prepare students for AP classes? Yeah right! I was in AP classes in Loudoun County and SOL exams did nothing for me in my AP classes. I did well in those classes because of great resding and writing skills, from home and from really great teachers. SOL exams just gave me those stupid packets that we filled out. Having to "learn" things for the SOL exams was tiresom, annoying, and cut into the things I could have been learning to help me in college. I hate to tell Ms. Wright and everyone else who just LOVES these exams, but they do nothing to help students in school. The yjust make officials feel better or gives those officials something to wave around saying "look how good we did" or "look how bad they did, we'll fix this by saying this school failed! taht will help!" Yeah, help their career! If people like Ms. Wright want to help students, they need to scrap the current SOL's and start over because the current exam does NOTHING for AP students...or anyone else for that matter.

Posted by: syrenfyre | February 16, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I suspect that the state superintendent KNOWS the severe limitations of the SOLs....she's been at the DOE for a long time and she was engaged in an earlier effort (in the early 1990s, a reform called the Common Core of Learning)) to reform education in Virginia based on research and developmentally appropriate learning processes. The SOLs have no research base.

And speaking of research, there is little of it to support the love affair that school divisions and educators (and parents et al) seem to have with AP courses and tests.
The Geiser & Santelices study (UCal) and the Klopfenstein study (Texas) both indicate that AP courses add minimal benefit to college performance. A DOE study (Toolbox Revisited) found little added benefit for AP. And though many states (like Virginia) and localities add a bonus to a student's GPA for taking AP classes, the Geiser study found that the best predictor – bar none – of college success (grades) and completion was UNweighted high school GPA. But you won't find Post reporters or columnists writing about that.

Nor will you (generaly) find Post columnists, reporters or editorial writers
discussing the severe, severe limitations of the SAT test (see Matthew Quirk's article on this in the Atlantic Monthy..."The Best Class Money Can Buy") or the lack of research to support performance pay for teachers and charter schools.

Posted by: mcrockett1 | February 17, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

from the SOL World History 2007 released test:

16. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were ancient Greek--

f. gods
g. rulers
h. sculptors
i. philosophers

Posted by: karlack | February 17, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

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