“We are trying the best we can to motivate students,” said Principal Suzanne Maxey concerning the incentives for students who pass their Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. This year, students who pass their SOLs with a score of a 400 or above will receive various rewards.
If a student scores a 400 or better on an SOL, he or she has the option of not taking a final exam and using the score on the SOL as a final grade.
Students who score a 400 to a 450 and choose to be exempt from their final exam will receive a “C,” 450-500 for a “B,” and 500-600 for an “A.”
“All teachers are required to comply with this incentive for regular classes,” said Maxey. “For Honors and AP classes, it will be up to the teacher’s professional judgment to decide if they will comply.”
Students who pass their SOLs will also be entered into a raffle to win prizes such as gift cards and an iPod touch. Students are entered each time they pass an SOL, giving them more chances to win. “Teachers are doing all kinds of things to help motivate their students,” said Maxey.
“Some teachers are taking their students to McDonalds if they pass.”
History teacher Philip Engle has used similar tactics with his tenth grade students in the past. “I have bought Five Guys for lunch for any student who earned a perfect 600 on their SOL,” said Engle.
He agrees with the incentives but does not plan to use SOL to inflate the grades of students taking his higher level classes. “Not every program or idea is going to impact every student,” said Engle. “But if it motivates some [students] to continue to work and take the test seriously, then I’m all for it.”
History teacher Molly Freitag, like Engle, will not be using the SOL scores for her AP classes. “I think the final grade incentives are totally fine,” said Freitag. “I also understand the motivation behind the [raffled] incentives, but at some point you have to consider that it’s as if we’re paying students to do well on a state test that is the minimum of what they should know.” English teacher and Department head, Sarah Kiyak will not be incorporating SOL scores into her AP students’ final grades but is giving incentives to students who attend her SOL remediation class that she co-teaches with English teacher Patrick Welsh.
“Mr. Welsh and I have been giving students gift cards for outstanding participation during class, and have even gotten them pizza for lunch,” said Kiyak. “I think that the incentives are good because by giving them to students it shows that we care about them and appreciate their effort.”
Students, like teachers, see the benefits in taking SOLs seriously. “I think everyone just wants to pass their SOLs so they don’t have to take their final,” said junior Grand Roberson. “That’s what I’m working for. But I don’t think giving away an iPod is going to motivate students, because most of them already have one.”
Sophomore Cesar Varela leans in favor of the incentives. “I think it’s a good way to motivate students,” said Varela. “Since students can now get a grade for doing well on their SOL, they’ll want to pass the test.” Junior Lauren Gustafson agrees. “I hate taking finals and I usually do well on SOLs, so the incentives are good for me.”
These incentives have been implemented due to T.C.’s Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) designation that is based on the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) rating. T.C. has never made AYP since it was established by the No Child Left Behind law in 2001. “The purpose of the incentives is to ensure maximum participation and [student] performance during SOL tests,” said Test Coordinator David Serensits.
T.C. needs 95 percent of students to take the test to meet the AYP participation requirement. Out of those students, 85 percent need to pass Math and 86 percent need to pass English for T.C. to meet the performance requirement.
T.C. is not the only high school in the area that is having trouble making AYP. Hayfield Secondary School, in Fairfax, has not made AYP since 2004. To help the school make AYP, Hayfield does not offer incentives for students who pass their SOL. However, principal David Tremaine said that they have instituted an extra 90 minute period like Titan Up, that they call “Hawk Time.” “The key is collaborative teams or “CTs” meet, assess and group students by name and by need for targeted intervention during Hawk Time,” said Tremaine. “We’re very hopeful and optimistic as we approach the SOL testing window.”
Grassfield High School, in Chesapeake, opened in 2007. The first year it was open, it did not make AYP. Every year since then, it has made AYP and according to their principal Carolyn Bernard, “teacher collaboration” contributed to their success. “We do not provide students with incentives for passing the SOLs,” said Bernard.
In Warren County, Skyline High School has not made AYP since opening in 2007. According to their principal Andrew Keller, Skyline constantly monitors their subgroups which consist of students who are of low socioeconomic class, receive special education needs or are minorities, providing support when possible.
As at Hayfield and Grassfield, they do not give incentives for students who pass their SOLs. “I believe that quality teaching is the most important factor,” said Keller. But he does point out that “not meeting [the AYP] rating does not mean that our school or your school is not good or is not making progress.”
Although the administration is taking actions to help the school meet the requirements to make AYP, it is not guaranteed that T.C. will make the rating. “Keep in mind that by the year 2013, all students in all subgroups will be expected to pass all standardized tests,” said Keller. “I guess those of us that are PLA will have some company.”