SOL Testing - A Guidance
Counselor's View by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University
John E. Bonfadini
After 42 years in education Iíve now joined the
retired-teacher ranks. My longevity can be attributed to having taught and
worked in several educational positions in addition to being a secondary
school classroom teacher. Iím not sure I could have endured forty-plus
years in a secondary classroom environment. College teaching is a breeze in
comparison to what our public school teachers must endure. Itís no wonder
few are remaining in the classroom for extended careers. I donít think I
have all the answers to why teachers are leaving the classroom, but a letter
written to the Roanoke Times by guidance counselor Esther Whitman Johnson
ó Northside High School, Roanoke, Virginia ó sheds some light on one of
This week I
read another article about the national teacher shortage, and I note with
interest in this monthís issue of the newsletter from the Virginia
Retirement System. It touts new legislation from Richmond that encourages
teachers eligible for full retirement benefits to stay on another year,
two or three.
Where have all
these lawmakers and state bureaucrats been during the last decade while
this crisis was developing? And where are their heads now when they
apparently see no connection between SOL testing nightmares and teachers
leaving the profession in record numbers?
some popular misconceptions, people who can, do teach. In fact, not only
can they teach, they can do many other things extremely well.
conversation in the faculty staff room increasingly turns to the topic of
all the things we can do and should consider other than teaching.
Yes, Esther, I too have no real reason to retire. I
could teach another three or four years, but why? Even my job as a
university professor had become boring and overburdened with paperwork. I
wonít even mention the economic side of the teaching picture.
Estherís letter continues,
I have a
practically perfect job. Until the last few years, I have looked forward
to getting up and going to work every day of my life. My co-workers in the
guidance department are heaven-sent; my school administration is extremely
fine; the faculty is intelligent, efficient, caring and creative.
are generally a group of kind, hard-working kids who come from families
who are supportive of what we do and involved in our school.
And, still, SOL
testing is driving me crazy, sapping my energy, my time, my mind, my
talent, my positive outlook. I shudder to think of what it is doing to
colleagues unfortunate enough to work in schools without the resources I
have ó schools that are severely understaffed and underfunded, and whose
constituency is poor and uninformed.
I am no longer
able to practice the profession for which I am trained ó highly trained
ó as a counselor of students. I have become a paper pusher, a recorder,
a numbers counter and a signer of my name (no fewer than 67 times during
the last testing session).
research articles, as well as other surveys conducted by leading
newspapers in the state, have shown that parents are solidly against the
SOL tests and their present intended use in student evaluation process. In
a time when schools need more creativity and flexibility to handle the
many demands of a diverse society our political body seeks to solve the
problem by installing a punitive testing system that centers on rote
memorization of facts. Yes, I know itís in the name of accountability.
Give me a break. There are plenty of measures already in place to
determine school accountability and we certainly donít need another
Obviously, there are
at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to
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Esther further comments on the SOL testing,
Keep in mind
that a huge new program has been laid on the schools of Virginia, most of
which are not able to add any personnel to take on the job.
personnel are absorbing the mammoth chore, and much of the burden has
fallen on guidance counselors throughout the state.
In the May
testing alone this year, I spent 88.5 hours solely working on SOL testing,
setting up more than 100 testing sessions and reviewing hundreds of answer
sheets. And this does not include the additional hours of prep time before
May, the hours in the March testing, or the hours during which my door was
open to students although I was preoccupied with test prep.
One day alone
in my guidance office, counselors with two doctorates and four masterís
degrees were counting in answer sheets, packaging tests, reviewing bubble
sections and wrapping tests with header sheets literally all day long.
Highly trained staff are involved with clerical functions for days on end.
What a waste of taxpayer money.
And even more
ludicrous, what were we not doing while we were doing this? We were not
seeing the children of Virginia. We were simply not available. Scenarios
like this were played out in hundreds of schools in Virginia in May and
Estherís fears and mine are that as students pass the
tests many parents will forget the constant erosion of the teaching
profession thatís happening behind the testing scene. When guidance
counselors are so burdened with shuffling papers that they donít have time
to talk with students or parents, we are headed for serious problems. What
is your childís teacher to do? Teach to the test or talk to your child?
Under the present threatening environment they canít do both.
Estherís entire letter and passionate plea to parents
can be read on the Roanoke Times
Web site at www.roanoke.com.