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Prince George
County, VA

Yes, in-person SOL tests are still happening. But most can opt out.


RICHMOND — Many schools across the state are still not holding in-person classes as the first semester of the 2020-21 school year draws to a close. But some students will be going to school anyway.

In schools that are virtual, districts have made plans to bring small groups of students back for Standards of Learning tests.

The tests can’t be taken from home because school officials must supervise testing to ensure “secure, standardized testing conditions,” state Superintendent James Lane has said.

“SOL tests are not to be administered remotely to students in a virtual school environment,” Lane wrote in a November memo to superintendents.

Even as schools are bringing students back for testing, most students don’t have to take the tests - families can opt out. The tests have bearing on school accreditation but in general in grades three through eight, they’re not a factor in students’ grades or whether they advance to the next grade level. High school students do have to pass a certain number of tests to graduate, however, so they may have limited options when it comes to opting-out.

Students didn’t have to test last spring when the U.S. Department of Education waived federally required tests and the state cancelled its own. It was the first spring since 1998 without SOLs.

But there’s little appetite at the federal level to grant those waivers again. Besty DeVos, President Donald Trump’s longtime secretary of education who resigned Thursday, sent a letter to state superintendents in September telling them to plan for tests.

“There is broad and consistent support for assessments because there is general agreement among the public that a student’s achievement should be measured, that parents deserve to know how their children are performing, and that it should be no secret how a school’s performance as a whole compares to other schools,” DeVos wrote.

Top Democrats have backed the position too, so it’s unlikely this will change after President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Newport News and the chair of the House education committee, told EdWeek last month he thinks tests should go forward.

The state has given some, limited, flexibility to schools within the confines of the federal mandate.

One of the most important came in November, when the state announced that districts could request a waiver to replace Virginia Studies, Civics and Economics and eighth grade writing SOL tests with local assessments. Those tests are only mandated at the state and not federal level.

The state Board of Education also changed the passing score to 350 out of 600, instead of the usual 400. SOL tests already didn’t affect school funding, but tests issued this year will be part of the 2022-23 school accreditation process. VDOE previously announced in August that it would waive school accreditation for the next two years, in part due to the lack of SOL tests last spring.

Matt Jones, 757-247-4729,