Technological advances will make this year's SOL tests less taxing for some students.
The Virginia Department of Education is in its third of a four-year transition to computer-adaptive testing for grades three through eight, according to a VDOE news release.
Williamsburg-James City County students will begin sitting for the exams May 8. Each school creates its own testing schedule, but Scott Thorpe, the division's director of special programs and accountability, said most schools start that week.
"They're shorter tests. In terms of grade four and five reading, we're talking about a third less items," Thorpe said. "It's computer adaptive now, which means it's more aligned to the students' ability levels, and it's going to cut back on the time that they're testing."
The computer-adaptive tests, which allow for a shorter format and therefore take less time, will be used for all math tests in third through eighth grades this year, except for algebra and geometry.
Third through fifth grade reading test takers will use the new system for the first time this year. Middle school reading students will see the new tests in the 2017-18 school year for the first time.
The tests are adaptive because they start with a semi-difficult question, and if the student answers it correctly, the next question is more challenging. If they get it wrong, the next question is easier. Then the scores are tabulated based on quantity of questions answered correctly and how hard those questions were, according to VDOE.
This year, the tests are available on a wider variety of devices, including iPads and Chromebooks.
"This upgrade simplifies the logistics of SOL testing for many schools because principals and testing coordinators don't have to move hundreds of students through a limited number of computer labs," superintendent of public instruction Steven Staples said in the news release. "Students can test in their classrooms with devices they've used all year. And the ability to assess more students in less time decreases the amount of instructional time lost to testing."
Thorpe said in past years, students have taken well past lunchtime to complete the exams. With the adaptive testing, it should take most of them only 60 to 90 minutes, Thorpe said.
These shorter test times only apply to elementary and middle school, and all science and social studies exams are not affected.
Thorpe said high school SOLs will not be different, but he hopes computer-adaptive testing is implemented at that level soon.
Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.