Food For Thought

Parents Just Say No to SOLs
By John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D., Contributing Columnist;
Professor, George Mason University

Each semester my educational research class, composed of graduate students, conducts studies on important educational issues as part of their course requirements. This semester the student project centered on parental views of the Standards of Learning (SOL). An optical scan survey instrument was designed containing 19 questions. The results of the most pertinent questions in the survey are discussed here. A population sample of 373 parents completed the survey. The responses from Northern Virginia parents provided both quantitative and qualitative data, which were statistically analyzed by the class. The following is an abstract report of the findings.

Question 1: The SOL (Standards of Learning) tests are an accurate measure of my child’s achievement.

Graph:  Question 1
Graph: Question 1

Graph number one shows parents’ responses to question one. The majority of parents (59.4%) responded negatively to this statement. Slightly over 22% had not formulated an opinion, while 17.7% supported the view that the SOLs are an accurate measure of their child’s achievement. Only 1% strongly agreed with this statement.

The graph also illustrates that females and males negatively responded to this question with female responses being significantly more negative than males. Data from other demographic factors not illustrated on the graph showed that Caucasians and non-Caucasians also negatively responded to this question, but Caucasian responses were significantly more negative. Those parents with a college education were significantly more negative than non-degreed parents when responding to question 1.

Question 2: The SOL tests measure the most important information that every student should know.

Graph:  Question 2
Graph: Question 2

Fifty-seven percent of the parents disagreed or disagreed strongly with statement number 2. Only 2% strongly agreed that the SOLs measure the most important information. The correlation coefficient between questions 1 and 2 is high (r =.76), indicating a strong relationship between the way parents answered these questions. Similar differences shown in question 1 also exist for the demographic factors of gender, race, and education.

Question 3: Teachers spend too much time teaching to the test rather than teaching other important materials and topics.
Graph:  Question 3
Graph: Question 3

The following graph shows the total response to this question. Over 64% of the parents agreed that teachers spend too much time preparing students for the SOLs. Approximately 13% showed some disagreement with this statement. Twenty-two percent responded with no opinion to this question 3.

Question 4: Failure to pass the SOL test should prevent a student from receiving a high school diploma regardless of other evaluation factors such as grades.
Graph:  Question 4
Graph: Question 4

Parents disagreed strongly with this statement. Only one in ten supported the concept that passing the SOL tests should be the sole requirement for graduation. Seventy-seven percent answered negatively to question 4. The "no opinion" category dropped to 11.6%, indicating that parents have a more definite negative view about the proposed use of test outcomes.

Question 5: Teachers’ pay should be tied to their students’ success on the SOL tests.

Question 6: Students’ results on the SOLs are a good measure of teacher effectiveness.
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Graph: Questions 5 & 6

Parents do not support the concept that teachers’ pay should be associated with the SOL tests. Over 80% disagree with statement number 5 as indicated by the red bar. Similar results occurred for question 6. The negative response rate for this question was 61% as shown by the blue bar.

 

Question 7: The SOL tests add too much student anxiety for the academic benefit gained.
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Graph: Question 7

Parents agreed with this statement — the academic gains that might be obtained through the SOL testing program are not worth the increased level of student anxiety. Female respondents were more concerned about the anxiety issue than males, although both tended to agree with the statement.

Question 8: I believe the current high test- failure rate is an indicator of the SOL tests and not my child’s school.
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Graph: Question 8

Parents supported the hypothesis that the high SOL failure rate is a result of test design rather than a poor educational environment at their child’s school. The percentage ranges are similar to responses on other questions, which maintained a consistent pattern through the survey.

 

Question 9: I have enough time and knowledge to help prepare my child for the SOL tests.

Question 10: I would be willing to pay for extra tutoring or taxes for my child to pass the SOL tests.
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Graph: Questions 9 & 10

Only about one third of the parents responded positively to question 10, that they have enough knowledge and time to assist their child with the SOL tests (red bars). The study population had a high degree of parents with college educations (70%), creating additional concern for children in less affluent areas of the state. Parents are not willing to provide additional financial support so that their children can pass the SOL tests (green bars).

The study also found that no significant difference existed between various parent groups with different household incomes and their willingness to pay more taxes or tuition to obtain higher SOL passing rates. Even families with incomes over $100,000 responded negatively to this question. Females were more negative than males when responding to the financial-support question. Non-white respondents were more supportive of increased financial support to areas with high failure rates.

Question 11: The SOLs are more politically than educationally motivated.
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Graph: Question 11

The parents’ responses to this question may give some credence as to why they fail to support the SOL testing program. Seventy percent think it is more a political process than a sound educational strategy.

 

Question 12: The SOL tests are not needed and the testing program should be eliminated.
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Graph: Question 12

The responses to this question were more equally distributed, although they still fail to support the present testing program. The non-Caucasian population follows a similar pattern to the Caucasian pattern but is significantly more supportive of the testing program.

Conclusions:

The study lacked some of the necessary random sampling techniques needed to accurately project the findings to the entire state population, but it does provide some significant findings about the perception parents have of the SOL tests. Throughout the entire quantitative and qualitative data is a strong negative response that the tests are flawed and used improperly as an educational strategy. Parents believe the tests are more politically motivated than a sound educational strategy. The higher the educational level of the parent, the more negative they are toward the SOLs. These parents also believe that the test will stymie creativity and fail to measure many important factors in the educational environment.

Whatís Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: jbonfadi@gmu.edu, or send written responses to the editor  or to John Bonfadini, 7500 Forrester Lane, Manassas, VA 20109.

The parent population of this study does not support the current punitive use of test results. They further believe that parents should be given copies of the tests and their children should be allowed numerous tries to pass the tests. The study results showed that parents donít believe the tests will lead to a significant improvement in the quality of education for their children. There is a strong feeling that the present testing program should be eliminated or modified and that results should not be used as the sole criteria for high school graduation.

In my opinion, parents have taken a more realistic and common-sense approach to the use of standardized tests than state school officials. Itís time to implement the recommendations of the George Mason University Graduate School of Education (January Issue) position paper. Following the current path to improving education is a course that is flawed and one which lacks necessary public support. More on the issue at a later date. 

 

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