First, I want to write a disclaimer that I do believe
in high educational standards and I’m not a hypocrite. Last month’s
article emphasized that too many kids receive undeserved rewards. Some
readers responded using the phrase, “feel-good society.” When students
graduate from high school, we as a society want assurances that they
achieved more than just feeling good about going to school for 12 years.
The graduation diploma should indicate that students have met realistic
minimum educational standards. The major educational question being
debated is what measures should be used to determine student achievement.
Public officials have chosen to put increased
emphasis on high-stakes testing as one measure. Many educators, including
myself, have opposed the use of these types of tests as the final
determiner of educational achievement. No single test can be a better
evaluator of student achievement than 12 years of formal evaluation by
trained professional teachers.
Those who have failed to listen to the educational
community are suffering from “testing backlash.”
Throughout the country large numbers of students have been denied
graduation because they failed to pass the high-stakes test.
Many of these students have good educational-achievement records.
Using high-stakes testing as the sole final determiner for graduation
lacks the element of common sense.
The student-testing program in Virginia began with
the SOL (Standards of Learning) tests. Over the years opponents and
critics have used statistics to back their views on the value of using
these testing schemes to promote and determine educational achievement.
Virginia State School Board Chairman Mark Christie had an article in the
June 1 Washington Post that highlights achievements by students at various
grade levels in many subjects. In a response letter to the editor, Mickey
Van Derwerker, an outspoken critic of the tests, also provides some
interesting statistics on the failure of the SOL testing program. As with
this Food For Thought column, there are usually opposing views on every
subject, but debate on my column usually hurts nothing except my ego. The
SOL testing program can have major consequences for students and parents
if it is used improperly as the sole determiner for receiving a high
Evaluate the Program, Not the Pupil
I think this type of testing should be used to
evaluate the curriculum and not the individual student. Sampling
techniques that are a standard tool of any research could be used to
determine the same student outcomes with a significantly smaller
expenditure. We may not have the individual evaluations on every student,
but we will obtain necessary data for identifying program strengths and
weaknesses. Resources could then be directed to improve identified program
weaknesses rather than wasted on testing schemes for everyone.
These tests originated in the political arena and
will probably die in that arena. Politicians have given public education a
nightmare instead of the funding required for real increased educational
achievement. In states like Florida and Nevada politicians are squirming
to find answers to the high testing failure rates, which are denying high
school diplomas to an unacceptable number of students. In Virginia, the
governor has seen the handwriting on the wall and has announced the
launching of a remediation program designed to help students pass the SOL
tests that are required for graduation in 2004. Governor Warner's
commitment of $400,000 will do little to really improve education, other
than teach a few students how to take the test. We are already spending
too much educational time on that task.
While we as a community are arguing over the value of
these testing programs, thousands of children get lost in the shuffle.
What if class sizes were dropped by 20 percent and test results compared
to gains promoted by the SOL testing program? Smaller class sizes also
contribute qualitatively to the educational process. Reducing class size
requires a significant commitment of financial resources compared to the
testing program. So we choose testing — it’s simply a matter of the
willingness to commit dollars to education. I often wonder what would
happen if we spent $80 billion, the amount spent so far on the war in
Iraq, to fight the “educational war?” I daydream a lot.
Private-school students are not required to take
these tests. If your child is having a problem passing the test, enroll
the child in a private school. Seems like a form of educational
discrimination to me. In my opinion, no student should be required to face
the consequences of a final exit exam. The diploma should be based on
acceptable performance over 12 years, and not one small sample of a
student’s educational experience.
In a recent discussion with my sons, who are both
teachers, they commented on how students perceive that once the SOLs are
given the school year is over. What a waste of time. In my day we had
final exams, but they were given on the last days of the school year. I
believe there is a general consensus that education was better in those
days. Standardized testing must be given at the same time in all school
divisions so it not only determines the curriculum, it also contributes to
formation of the individual school calendar. What would an extra week of
study do for student achievement in comparison to the $400,000 provided
for remediation in the governor’s program? Teaching time is a precious
commodity for teachers and they shouldn’t face needless hurdles like
excessive testing schedules.
In Fairfax County, the failure rate is expected to be
more than 10 percent, which could mean there will be far higher failure
rates in less-affluent school divisions. These rates are unacceptable to
the general public. We require our children to attend school for a given
number of years. Our challenge is to use the assigned time to efficiently
educate the child to reach his or her maximum potential. These tests in
their current form do not help educators meet that challenge and need to
be re-evaluated. Now all we have to do is find someone with the political
courage to evaluate the testing process.
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: DrBmailbag@aol.com,
or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded
to the author.