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Focus on Fairfax
February 8, 2014

Dear Friends and Neighbors, 

 

Thanks to everyone who attended my Town Hall meeting last weekend with Senator Chap Petersen. We had a great turn out and lots of good questions. If you weren't able to attend, you can see the presentation here
 

February 11th marks the official half-way point of the session. This is known as "cross-over" and is the last day for each house to act on its own legislation - with the exception of the Budget Bill. As a result, this upcoming Monday and Tuesday are the busiest days of the year as we literally vote on hundreds of bills. You can watch the session live from the comfort of your computer. While session usually starts at noon, we will begin at 10:00 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday. Click here for the live stream.

 

SOL Reform Update

 

Virginia generally outperforms the nation in education by almost any standard, with higher average test scores on reading, writing, science, and mathematics. Our graduation rates have also steadily increased, from 82.1% in 2008 to 89.1% in 2013. Despite this success, there is growing concern by parents and educators alike that our reliance on high-stakes standardized tests (known as the Standards of Learning in Virginia) is resulting in rote memorization and teaching to the test. A student today takes at least 34 SOL tests between third and twelfth grades - on top of SATs and all other tests.

 

This year, nearly 20 years after the SOLs were first implemented, the General Assembly is taking steps to finding a new balance that maintains accountability while giving our teachers the ability to focus on developing the critical thinking skills that are needed in today's job market. I was pleased to be appointed to the Education Reform Subcommittee that was assigned the responsibility of overseeing this process. After taking testimony from dozens of stakeholders, the SOL reform bill (HB930) will be heard on the House floor this Monday. Prudently, the bill focuses first on grades three through eight. High school SOL tests are integrally related to diploma requirements - and the last thing we want to do is make changes that will have unintended consequences.

 

The following is a quick overview of proposed changes:

  • The number of SOL tests in grades three through eight is reduced from 22 to 17.
  • School boards must administer alternative assessments in grades three through eight in subjects where an SOL test is not given. The alternative assessments must be approved by the Board of Education and be designed to allow for a deeper, more comprehensive review of a student's understanding of the lesson objectives. These alternative assessments give teachers more space for creativity in the classroom, while still holding them accountable that content is being taught.
  • A Standards of Learning Innovation Committee is created to set in motion a process of continual innovation in state assessments, with a focus on high school assessments. Committee members will include parents, teachers, curriculum specialists, local school board members, principals, and business representatives.

Zero Tolerance and School Discipline

 

Many of you will remember a story in the Washington Post a few years ago about a Fairfax County student suspended for bringing acne medicine to school. While I support strong discipline policies in our schools, the incident highlighted the problem with one-size-fits-all zero tolerance policies. When I was a student at Robinson Secondary - I can recall several "teachable moments." I learned from them and moved on. Somewhere along the line we seemed to forget that mistakes happen and that the appropriate response is guidance, and not punishment.

 

Unfortunately, our current state law doesn't help the situation, which provides that a school board "shall" expel or suspend a student under many circumstances. For example, a student "shall" be expelled for possessing a controlled substance. While some controlled substances are clearly expulsion worthy, the definition also includes over the counter prescription drugs. Last Monday, the Education Committee, of which I am a member, passed HB751 to turn that "shall" into a "may" to restore the ability of administrators to engage in those "teachable moments" rather than expel a student for an infraction.

 

Constituent Day

 

Finally, don't forget that I am hosting my second annual Constituent Day on Monday, February 17th. We will meet between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m. and then visitors will get a behind-the-scenes tour of the General Assembly Building and the State Capitol. We have also arranged for a private tour of the historic John Marshall House. Send me a quick email at info@davidbulova.com if you are interested in attending.

 

Thank you for the opportunity to serve!

 

 

Sincerely,

david's signature
David Bulova
Delegate, 37th Virginia House District

 
 
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