Speak Out: How Should Fairfax Measure Student Success?

New test sparks conversation about what Fairfax County Public Schools should be testing and how.

In looking at the array of tests students face today, some people have ventured those enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools — and other systems across the country — are overtested.

Last week, Fairfax officials released new information about a new pilot test given across 10 county high schools, which asked students to draw on both prior knowledge and new information to solve problems across disciplines instead of simply recalling what they learned in any given year, as is often the case with standardized tests like Virginia's Standards of Learning exams.


With it comes an opportunity to change the way the system assesses its students, officials said.

"It's worth exploring as we explore how we can be less test obsessed," school board member Sandy Evans (Mason) said Thursday.

But how does the system balance tests that could be better with those they're required to take, by Virginia ad the U.S. Department of Education?

One one hand, "the PISA test is an example of one type of assessment we could be using in FCPS to measure, reliably, our goals for our students.  It is an example of the type of test that would not be given every year, in every subject.  Instead, this kind of test measures critical thinking and problem-solving across disciplines, at intervals in a child’s school career," school board member Pat Hynes wrote in a blog post on Patch.

On the other, it's unclear how it could fit into the testing that already exists.

"I feel like I'm always studying for another test," Lucy Gunter, the school board's student representative, told the school board last week. "[I hope] finding a way to decrease the amount of testing can be found with these results to alleviate some of the stress most students are under right now."

Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, suggested more testing on top of what already exists "is interfering with our instructional time, and damaging our ability to establish those important interpersonal relationships that we need with our students to support them emotionally and socially,” he said.

And, Hynes writes in her post, "no standardized test is sufficient to give teachers, parents, students and the community the wealth of information we need to make good decisions about policy and practice."

Tell us: What tests should schools keep, and what should they leave behind? What skills are most important to measure for 21st century success? Let us know in the comments.

Kim McCoy March 26, 2013 at 07:43 PM
My best suggestion is to get rid of the U.S. Department of Education requirements by getting rid of the US Department of Education's hold on our state.... The Federal government has NO BUSINESS telling states what they must teach, test, or conform to in the process of educating our students. ....that's a good start for Virginia and the country as a whole.
Keri Panatier March 26, 2013 at 10:38 PM
I like the idea of a test that allows students to demonstrate the ability to problem solve instead of the ability to memorizing rote facts. We don't need more testing - maybe just different testing. In the workplace we need more people who are able to see a problem, look at it from different angles and come up with a solution. I think I would like to hear more about how this test would be used "at intervals" throughout a student's career. The last "pilot" program run by the County was a bit messy (who decided to go with math text books online after piloting social studies text?). I wonder if the County will publish some concrete results from the pilot and then allow the community to provide feedback? This is the kind of feedback I probably should have submitted on the latest FCPS "efficiency" survey.
Kathy Keith March 26, 2013 at 11:22 PM
Here is the problem with testing: 1. It must be determined what is being tested--not always easy. What's more important-fractions or tables? Word identification or comprehension? Astronomy or biology? Vocabulary or sentence structure? 2. The test must be designed to test what you want tested. This is not easy, either. Then the test must be piloted for reliability and validity. (Do you get consistent results? Is it really testing what it is supposed to test?) 3. Who is going to administer the test? The teacher who has a vested interest in the students' high scores? A colleague who may or may not want the teacher's class to do well? Pay a third party to test at high expense? 4. Do all testers administer the test in the same way? Do some allow a little "extra" time? (You'd be surprised on this one.) 5. Are all teachers being held to the same standards even though one class may have lots of needy kids and another kids that are pretty well-behaved? One teacher may have ESOL kids who moved to her class recently. Another may have kids who are frequently absent. ETC. This is so much more complicated than most people realize. Tests should be a tool to help the students and the teachers--not a yardstick to evaluate teachers.
Wildermann March 27, 2013 at 04:00 PM
Yea, let the states decide what is important and you end up with anti-science legislation attempts against evolution, climate change etc. Happened in several states this past year. In VA there was a failed proposal to amend the Virginia state constitution in a way that apparently would allow students to opt out of learning about evolution. Rural VA through the state legislature proposes & sometimes successfully the most arcane legislation that impacts the entire state. Just consider the anti-choice and voter ID measures this past year. The rest of the world will eat our lunch if anti-science legislation is successful in our public schools. Reading & mathematics skills are the most fundamental requirements in order to be successful in all of the other content areas. Test scores in these areas for high school students remain low in communities where large segments of the student population get to high school lacking skills in reading and math. Tackle that problem at its roots and much of the issue regarding test score discrepancies between demographic groups will narrow.
RGS March 27, 2013 at 06:32 PM
Perhaps there is also a better way of evaluating tests/data that are already available. For example; How many AP students don't pass the AP tests (score 1 or 2)? I understand its close to 20% that don't pass AP tests. Yet HS schools are evaluated percentages of sutents "taking" AP classes -- not if they do/don't pass. Also, there are other school districts in Va. whose standards far easier for honors and AP classes and Virginia colleges don't know the difference (I have asked). If there is a large differential between the SOL scores and teacher test scores, what does that tell us?? Or AP and teacher test scores? We should be looking at all of these differentials. Does the school or the county?


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