Special Joint Meeting on Education

August 23-25, 1998, Syria

In past years, the Board of Education, the House Committee on Education, and the Senate Committee on Education and Health have occasionally met jointly during the early days of the legislative session for an hour or two to exchange information and to discuss issues. This year, for the first time, a two-day retreat was conducted to provide a forum for dialogue and understanding between the board and the two standing committees.

Legislators' Concerns

The retreat included presentations, discussions, and demonstrations on issues of interest to the members of the two standing committees, such as the Standards of Learning (SOL) assessments and the new Standards for Accrediting Public Schools, the progress in establishing cut-off scores for the SOL tests, and the potential effects of the tests on at-risk students and students for whom English is not the first or native language. Many questions were posed by the legislators, relating to the timing for establishing the cut scores in relationship to the phasing-in of the new SOL; concerns about labeling students with the new tests; confusion about the best times to give the tests and about the end-of-course and end-of-grade tests; perceptions that the board has already chosen a cut score; accommodations for students for whom English is not the first or native language; resources and programs for improving the scores of at-risk students; and teacher training in the implementation of the SOL.

Board Response

Among the answers to the questions, it was pointed out that the tests will provide a most useful and powerful teaching tool, since the strengths and weaknesses of the students will be easily ascertained in the early grades, as well as later, and, further, teachers will be able to identify those areas in which they need to hone their teaching techniques and skills. For the pacing of the materials and timing of the tests, it was noted that this is primarily a local planning and scheduling issue. Some remarks also related to the use of the tests in computing final grades and problems with the formatting of the tests. Among the issues noted in the survey of school superintendents were the printing (apparently, some problems were initially experienced with the collations), timing, and the use of the information. As far as content was concerned, most of the comments heard related to single items. Overall, the superintendents appear to have viewed the tests positively. Some school divisions are aggressively seeking to integrate the SOLs and SOAs into their curricula, whereas other school divisions may not have the resources to develop such approaches.

Other Issues

Questions were also asked about diploma test requirements, the potential for sanctions against teachers when students do not meet the SOA requirements, and consideration of the differences between student populations in schools, such as high percentages of at-risk students and disabled students as opposed to high percentages of affluent students and schools with hand-picked students, such as Governor's schools. Respondents indicated that retribution against teachers is not the answer, but rather support and training for growth and improvement, and that some schools defy their demographics and perform well even though the statistics indicate they should not, particularly if the school has a stable staff, stable families, and good leadership. The discussion, although lively, concluded with agreement that everyone supports high standards.

Invited Speakers

The retreat also included presentations by invited speakers; for example, a discussion by two superintendents of the school report cards that are required by the new SOA and remarks by four school superintendents concerning school violence and its prevention and control. One superintendent noted that 180 good days can be wiped out by one incident like a shooting. The presenters on school violence seem to agree that schools, always a reflection of society, are experiencing serious violence from young children. All agreed that policies such as good communications with parents, students, and the community; effective rules of student conduct; and strong efforts to prevent aggression through teaching more appropriate responses to conflict were good steps towards managing school discipline.

At the conclusion of the second day's meeting, the consensus was that the retreat had promoted communications between the policy body—the Board of Education—and the legislators who are charged with overseeing educational policy. Many attendees expressed their hope that this dialogue would continue and be enhanced.

The Honorable James H. Dillard II, Co-Chairman, House Committee on Education
The Honorable J. Paul Councill, Jr., Co-Chairman, House Committee on Education
The Honorable Jane H. Woods, Chair, Senate Committee on Education and Health
The Honorable Kirk T. Schroder, President, Board of Education
Legislative Services contacts: Norma E. Szakal, Brenda H. Edwards