NORFOLK -- The Department of Education says its almost 20-year investment in the Standards of Learning, or SOLs, is paying off. Virginia's eighth graders ranked higher in math than their peers in 39 countries.
In 2013, fourth graders showed significant gains on reading and math tests. There are across the board gains in the ACT and SAT despite nationwide declines.
But are the SOLs preparing students for college and beyond, or are they simply stressing parents, students and teachers while killing creativity in the classroom?
"I do think there is too much testing and too much of a focus on testing,” Dr. Lori Underwood, Dean of College of Arts and Humanities at Christopher Newport University said.
Underwood says we no longer live in the 'Encyclopedia Britannica Age' where kids need to memorize things like the order of the presidents of the United States. That information is on their phones. She says the SOLs aren't giving kids the tools to sort the good information from the bad.
"I think many students today come in with less of a tolerance for ambiguity, less exposure to situations where the answer isn't clear," she noted.
Dr. Rinyka Allison, an assistant professor of education at Norfolk State University says she too finds many college students lack the skills to be critical thinkers and blames the SOL's.
"If we are working on developing critical learners, globally competitive students we need to model our assessments to meet those types of demands,” Allison said.
But how to fix the SOLs is a difficult question. How do you measure overall student achievement in a state with both affluent school districts and struggling rural and urban districts? And is too much pressure put on a single test?
"I've not seen it anywhere in public policy where it states that we have to give one test at the end of the year to measure the child's performance for the year," Allison added.
Some students we talked to question the tests as well. "I would say get rid of them completely but then how would you test the knowledge of the students," Vashaun Brandon, a student at Christopher Newport University said.
That's the challenge ahead for Governor Terry McAuliffe who is forming a task force to look at further revisions to the tests.
"Our kids are learning how to memorize. Our teachers are teaching to the test. We've got to get away from that," McAuliffe told 13News Now.
Dr. Underwood says the governor's push to develop more critical thinkers is the right track. But if the tests end up requiring more essays, where will the resources come to grade them all? And will that be a fair measure of what students know? Her advice?
"I think I would advise him to put more trust in the teachers and in the administrators in the school systems," Underwood said.
Dr. Allison believes however the state decides to revise the SOLs, 180 days of learning cannot come down to one test. "The pressure for teachers is ridiculous," said Allison. She’d like to see the school year divided and students assessed quarterly like colleges do.