SOL: The Real Report Card Part 1

Reporter: Heather Rosenbaum | Videographer: RJ Burnette

Danville, VA -- This month, students have been taking a test they've been preparing for all year long. The SOLs, or Standards of Learning, tests are a way for teachers and schools to be held accountable. But some teachers argue they do more harm than good.

Some teachers say these tests simply hinder their teaching, forcing them to focus on the SOLs instead of their own curriculum. And they say what's worse is this year, math tests have gotten even more rigorous.
For 34 years, Cheryl Richardson dedicated her career to teaching. But when the SOL tests started, she felt her ability to teach became "obstructed."
"They are not getting what I could have provided, what I could have provided without the stress of the SOL tests," said Richardson.
She says teachers like her became forced to focus every day and every lesson plan on teaching for a test.
"It's taking away the time that the teachers could spend on understanding the concept and it's hurting the students," said Richardson.
Still Richardson became so good at teaching SOLs, she could turn a weak math student into one with an advanced grade.
"If a person looks at that score and sees that that is an advance score they are going to think that she really really understood everything. But she didn't," said Richardson.
A good score only takes a student so far.
"Everyday skills that they need to be a successful provider and a successful person in society. I think they are worse now than they used to be...and I do place some of the blame on the SOLs," said Richardson.
Now, even after retirement, she continues to work with students during SOL remediation. She argues that SOLs still cripple creative curriculums, individual teaching, and overall learning.
"It's not made them stronger in math, I don't think. It's just made them realize how to take a multiple choice test," said Richardson.
But this school year marks the start of the increased rigor math SOL tests. Now, instead of all multiple choice -- 15 % will be an online component, including fill-in-the-blanks and match-up questions. Plus some skills will be moved around, often forcing lower grades to have higher standards.
Many parents and students say they are feeling added strain from SOLs too.
"I just think SOL testing is a lot of pressure on the kids. It's a lot of pressure," said Deborah Davis, a mother of three.
Davis feels like it's her second time in school, staying up for hours helping her 6th grade son Kameryn prepare.
"It's a lot of work to review and sometimes I am up until at least 10 o'clock at night just doing reviews and making sure he understands before he takes the test," said Davis.
"Kind of worried, kind of worried," said Kameryn Davis, 6th Grader.
Deborah continues to work with Kameryn so he'll be ready. But she worries all of this preparation will only become short-lived memorization, another common criticism of the SOL exams.
"After all this is said and done, they are not going to retain all that is on the SOL tests," said Davis.
Even her daughter, one year out of school, admits she couldn't pass it without a review.
"Some of it. But as far as math and things that I would have to go back and look at, not really," said Kelsey Davis, who graduated from high school in 2011.
"That's what some students do, memorize the procedure. And then that's not accomplishing anything," said Richardson.
Even with all of the criticisms of the SOL exams, many argue that they hold teachers and schools accountable. And proponents for the tests say that that is invaluable. In fact, those who help create the SOLs say they raise the standard of teaching, something students can't afford to miss out on.
"If a teacher is not able to reach the kids to these standards, they need to find a new profession. Because these kids are our future, it's not a joke anymore," said Jennifer Hatch, a 6th grade math teacher.