Reporter: Heather Rosenbaum | Videographer: RJ Burnette
Danville, VA – Officials with the Virginia Department of Education say they developed their new SOL tests with input from higher education and businesses. They also looked at national standards and other state's tests. They say this is something that is necessary in today's work environment.
From the moment students walk into Jennifer Hatch's math class, it feels more like playtime than preparation. In fact, after nine years of teaching Virginia SOLs, Hatch says she's perfected the art of test teaching, turning it into song and dance, and more important, something that will stick with her students.
"We don't teach for the tests. That's not how we do it. We teach SOLs which are incorporated into our curriculum. We do not teach a test," said Hatch.
But six years ago, when Hatch decided to get involved in SOL creation, she shared common criticisms of the exams. Like many teachers, Hatch thought the SOLs were forcing her to teach test strategy instead of comprehension. Now Hatch sees things completely differently.
"For me SOLs keep me focused. They keep me on task," said Hatch.
She says the SOL curriculum should be a guide for teachers, keeping them on track and making sure they teach everything entirely.
"I found that when I taught in other states that is what we did, we taught our strengths and we kind of touched on our weaknesses. That is not fair to the students," said Hatch.
While this school year starts the increased rigor for the math SOLs, Hatch thinks they should be even more rigorous.
"I believe these kids are what is going to run this country in a few years. And they need to be prepared," said Hatch.
The Virginia Department of Education agree saying our students should be ready for today's jobs.
"We have an obligation to prepare young people for these opportunities. Because if we don't, they are going to be left behind and as educators, we will not have done our job," said Charles Pyle, director of communications at Virginia Department of Education.
The new math tests are no longer all multiple choice, 15 % will have an online component with fill-in-the-blanks and match-up questions, which is something test creators hope will force students to learn for understanding.
"Teachers can no longer teach test strategy. You can't really cheat through that. Kids are going to have to actually perform this next year," said Hatch.
Still the Davis family worries these new standards will be too difficult for already stressed students.
"With the SOLs it's just a lot of pressure. A lot of pressure on the parents, on the teachers and on the students especially," said Deborah Davis, a mother of three.
Kameryn Davis studies for hours every day just to be ready for the SOLs.
But officials with the Department of Education explains that these tests ultimately prepare students for life after school. It says the SOLs are here to stay.
"It's different from in the past where they were competing with only people in their local areas for jobs. We are now competing with others from all around the world and other states. We have to prepare our kids in the right way for that," said Michael Bolling, the mathematics coordinator at Virginia Department of Education.
The Department of Education added that they plan to keep changing the content with the ever-changing standards of the world. That starts next school year when they will be implementing the more rigorous English exam.