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Virginia to seek SOL waiver

Virginia students will likely not have to take Standards of Learning tests this year due to schedule disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal Department of Education said Friday it would waive mandatory testing requirements for states that are not able to assess their students during the national emergency.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said students should be focusing on staying healthy and continuing their learning, while teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other issues in their effort to adapt to changes as a result of the virus.

“Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time,” DeVos said in a news release. “Students are simply too unlikely to be able to perform their best in this environment.”

State Superintendent Dr. James Lane had sought to cancel the SOLs this year after superintendents across the state, including Suffolk Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon, asked for it.

Lane directed the state education department staff to prepare an application with the federal Department of Education for a statewide waiver from requirements related to student testing. He anticipates presenting a waiver application to the state Board of Education in early April and submitting it to the federal Department of Education once the board approves it.

He said they “responded to the pleas of states — including Virginia — for relief during this time of national crisis and for providing a simple and expedited process for requesting waivers,” Lane said in a statement Friday.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires annual testing in reading and math in grades 3 through 8, and at least once in high school. Students, per federal requirements, also have to take at least one science test in elementary, middle and high school. The state’s assessment system also includes additional SOL tests not required by federal law but mandated by state law and regulations.

In other testing news, students in Advanced Placement courses will be able to take a 45-minute online exam at home, according to a College Board directive issued Friday. The College Board said it would work with “partners” to provide opportunities for low-income or rural students who don’t have online access to review AP content online and take the exam.

The College Board said that, to be fair, the AP exams would only cover material that had already been covered through early March. Each AP subject will have two testing dates to be announced by April 3.

The College Board said it designs exam questions in ways to prevent cheating, and it also uses digital security tools and plagiarism detection software.