Delegate Dickie Bell Discusses SOL Reform at Valley Summit

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Students and teachers in Virginia have a lot less test prep to do this year.

The state is getting rid of some SOL tests, but one valley lawmaker is calling for even more drastic change.

This spring, the General Assembly passed a bill to cut down on the number of SOL tests middle and elementary school students have to take. That was a big topic of discussion for Delegate Dickie Bell at the Valley Business Summit in Weyers Cave Monday. He says if Virginia wants to really prepare students for the real world, it can start by cutting even more SOLs.

If Bell had his way, students and teachers would spend a lot less time getting ready for standardized tests. “I would much rather see us read and write more,” he said.

Bell is a high school teacher-turned politician, so he's taken his philosophy and his concerns from the classroom to the General Assembly

“We need to measure achievement, I understand that, but we need to take a hard look at the whole SOL program. I'm really concerned about the lack of critical thinking skills with our students,” Bell said.

The tests have been around since 1995, when former Governor George Allen was in office. This spring, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed off on a bill to cut down on the number of tests elementary and middle school students have to take. But, Bell said Monday, the state needs to take a bigger step.

“I was happy that we did something,” he said. “I would've been happier had we done more.”

The big question at Monday’s summit, though, was how to replace the tests.

“The sooner that you decide upon a career, then you understand the skill level you need, you understand the level of education that you need, and you understand the skills that make you successful,” said Kay Dunkley, Virginia Tech Roanoke Center director.

As part of the bill earlier this spring the state also appointed a committee to oversee the possibility of more changes to the SOL tests down the road.

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