24 Virginia elementary schools seeks testing waivers

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The Virginia Board of Education is considering applications from two dozen Virginia elementary schools seeking waivers from state science and social studies testing requirements for third-graders.

The waivers would give the schools more time to develop students' reading skills.

"Third-grade reading is a good gatekeeper for academic success," Deputy Education Secretary Javaid Siddiqi told The Washington Post. "We want to make sure the young people who get beyond the gate are reading on grade level."

Often, schools with low reading pass rates also have low pass rates in social studies and science, Siddiqi said.

"It's not about what they know," he said. "They are struggling with comprehension."

The waivers were approved by the General Assembly this year to give schools more testing flexibility. Schools can apply for a waiver for either science or social studies, or both, if they have a schoolwide pass rate of less than 75 percent on the Standards of Learning reading assessment.

At least 30 minutes of daily instruction in both science and social studies still must be provided by schools that are granted a waiver. Students must be tested in these subjects and the schools must publish the results. But an alternative to the SOL assessment can be used. Scores cannot be used against schools in accreditation decisions.

The board is scheduled to grant waivers to qualified applicants in late June.

Extra state funding will be provided to schools that are granted waivers. The money will be used to help pay for a full-time reading specialist to work with struggling students.