Lindsay Snoddy, Environmental Compliance Manager for ACPS, showing the solar thermal panels on the roof of Henley Middle School

Officials from Charlottesville and Albemarle Schools are hoping their students take fewer standardized tests in the coming years. At recent meetings with the area’s Virginia General Assembly delegation, officials from both divisions cited reforming the Standards of Learning tests as a priority.

Albemarle School Board Chair Steve Koleszar said that in the past, being educated meant finding facts and repeating them, whereas now students are expected to be able to create things with their knowledge—a skill the SOLs don’t measure, Koleszar said.

Charlottesville School Board Chair Juandiego Wade agreed, and said the volume of standardized tests is overwhelming.

“There are 34 of these high-stakes tests that are required of our students in grades 3-11,” Wade said, “and each of these tests requires a considerable amount of preparation and cause anxiety within our students.”

Now local schools officials say project-based learning and assessments that test critical thinking are the way to go. Since 2012, Albemarle has been piloting one, the College and Workforce Readiness Assessment, which is a case-based test that measures critical and creative thinking, as well as writing ability.

Delegate David Toscano (D-57) said he agrees there are too many tests, and that local divisions should be able to create their own accountability standards. But Representatives Rob Bell (R-58) and Steve Landes (R-25) are concerned about the potential backsliding on accountability measures SOL reform might bring.

“It’s the lower-income homes that don’t have the resources that some of us are a little bit skeptical about how they’re going to be able to deal with this type of assessment,” Landes said. “What we don’t want to do, I think we all would agree, is see further separation from the individuals that are achieving and the ones who aren’t.”

Albemarle and Charlottesville have joined 43 other schools divisions around the state in adopting resolutions to reform SOL testing. And despite his concerns, Bell said there is momentum in Richmond for a change.

“I think there’s been a steady interest in this for many years,” he said. “If there is a test, which is a better test, but that is objectively scored and we can compare Augusta to Greene to Albemarle using this test, this is a doable proposition.”

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Albemarle schools earn environmental honor

At its annual conference in Williamsburg, the Virginia School Boards Association honored Albemarle County Public Schools with the top environmental prize in the “Green Schools Challenge,” which encourages divisions to reduce their carbon footprints.

Since 2009, Albemarle has saved $400,000 by upgrading lighting and operating equipment. Nowhere are the efficiencies more apparent than at Henley Middle School’s Renewable Energy Resource Center, which features solar photovoltaic panels, a solar thermal system that heats water, and a wind turbine. The Center has produced 120,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and prevented 88 tons of carbon dioxide emissions since 2012.

Susan Guerrant, Albemarle’s Environmental Coordinator, said the new technology also serves as a learning opportunity for the students, as the mechanisms and the data they collect are infused into curriculum in each of the school’s grades.

In addition to harnessing the wind and sun, Crozet and Meriwether Lewis elementary schools, and Jack Jouett and Sutherland middle schools have developed composting programs. These schools kept more than 126 tons of food from landfills and reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 900 metric tons.

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