Red Apple Mom

June 23, 2011

An SOL Hangover

It’s been over 48 hours since the end of the school year. My family’s SOL hangover is finally over – at least for this year anyhow. 

With three kids in public school, this non-stop test prep drove me and my children crazy.  It seems to get worse every year.  Please tell me I’m not alone Red Apple Mom readers.  Was the stress level in your house high over the SOL tests?

I’ve told my kids not to stress over these tests.  But my laissez-faire attitude went nowhere because the constant message my kids received from their schools was perform, perform, perform.

I despise this non-stop test prep and these tests.  I think I despise the weeks after the SOL tests even more though.  At the schools my children attend, those two weeks were filled with field days and seemingly one party after another.  No more learning – just partying. This meant already busy parents were peppered with lots of requests for food, water, and their time to come oversee activities that filled up the last days of school.

I’m a grouch about all of this.  It’s a non-stop stress fest over standardized tests that don’t seem to measure very much anyway.  Enough already.  Enough of the parties and enough of the non-stop testing.

I’ll be listening closely to tonight’s School Board discussion about Dr. Dale’s proposal to shift SOL testing dates for middle schoolers to multiple points in the year.  But I’ll be honest – the idea of bringing “SOL Hell” to other points in the school year is hardly an appealing proposal to me at this point. Perhaps I need to mix up a Bloody Mary to get me through this SOL hangover while I listen to this evening’s School Board presentation!

Related Articles:

Virginia Sets the Bar Too Low (Washington Post, June 21, 2011)

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7 Comments

  1. Superintendent Dale is making a very good case for his proposals. The key–“Master content, and let time vary.” He says the tests would be more about teaching the kids rather than labeling the schools. He raises the interesting question of why there should be only one opportunity to take the SOL in middle schools and elementary schools. In high schools the students have an opportunity to retake the tests.

    Comment by Virginia Fitz Shea — June 23, 2011 @ 10:38 pm

    • I will be interested to see what middle school principals and teachers have to say – and student feedback to this proposal as well. I believe it was School Board Member Brad Center who asked if a student could retake the SOL later in the year if they only got a “passed” score and wanted to get a “passed advanced” score. With principals obsessing over their students’ “pass” rates, I don’t want principals and parents now obsessing that their child must retake SOL tests to get “passed advanced” scores too. We’ll be non-stop testing and then re-testing and at what costs – financial, emotional and mental? Sure let’s have discussion about this, but let’s make sure ALL aspects are considered. Right now, I’m not sold on this idea. I hate these tests and I hate what they do to my kids and my teachers. I think it would have served everyone better if the Superintendent had surveyed middle school teachers, principals, parents AND students first before making this proposal.

      Comment by Red Apple Mom — June 24, 2011 @ 9:52 am

      • I think having more than one opportunity to take a test would make it less of a high-stakes event. If you hate these tests, then clearly you might like SOME sort of change. Is there really a big advocacy group for “let’s keep everything just the way it is?”

        Comment by Virginia Fitz Shea — June 25, 2011 @ 11:46 am

      • SOLs and their equivalents in other states are meaningless measures of student progress. Any exam which can be taken multiple times to earn the “verified credit” sufficient to graduate with an “Advanced Standing” diploma is risible. These are not assessing students, they are actually assessing schools, hence the preparation and stress students endure. Principals are pressured by central administration to have their schools perform, and they in turn pressure the teachers. The inevitable outcome is teachers inflate their importance and drill students to pass. To students at any point in K-12 education, they have no value. They do not affect promotion to the next grade level. A student with a GED or no High School diploma at all can, under the right circumstances, matriculate at Harvard, so the lack of an “Advanced Standing” endorsement is hardly an impediment. In Virginia specifically, a student graduating from a Virginia Community College is guaranteed admission to the state’s selective four year schools (predicated on the student’s GPA). Virginia Community Colleges do not look at SOL scores in determining admission. In fact, I’m not aware of any post-secondary school that does.

        I am not opposed to assessing schools as a whole, per se. But the correct way to do so is to administer the tests twice a year, at the beginning and at the end; and without cramming, drilling, preparing, or inducing any type of stress. The picture that emerges will be a significantly more informative. It will be much easier to identify areas that need improvement in instruction, which should be the true intend of this type of assessment; and will give parents and administrators a clearer idea of which schools are effectively teaching overall. If the State Board of Education believes the material contained in a given SOL is important (and obviously they do) then they should design curriculum that teaches and reinforces these skills throughout the year. Students shouldn’t need to cram. They’re not trying to pass that University Physics course they’ve blown off all semester; we’re trying to determine if they are leaving a particular grade knowing more (collectively) than they did when they entered it.

        So, the SOLs are a ruse, nothing more, used by school systems to demonstrate “accountability” to parents and politicians. Kids are caught in the middle, and made to feel as if their futures are on the line. Nothing is further from the truth, though I suspect a few principals’ might be. The irony in all of this is that the school accountability movement that drove the politics behind creating these instruments also fueled the Charter school agenda; the idea being that if a given school district poor progress could be quantified, the money the system received could be shifted over to for profit charter schools. This failed to materialize on a National scale, but public school systems were bullied into creating assessments to document their “success”. Now, they in turn bully students into believing the tests are important. They may be, but not to the students.

        Comment by profkreed — June 25, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

      • You are correct – a true assessment would be without advanced drilling, cramming etc… I also believe FCPS wants these high SOL scores so when parents like me complain about our large class sizes, they can reply, “Oh, see children are doing fine at your school. Look at the SOL scores.” Of course they don’t mention the SOL’s measure BASIC level of learning and they won’t acknowledge that my children could use SOL prep time for other meaningful learning. Thank you for commenting.

        Comment by Red Apple Mom — June 27, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

  2. Agree with you! One solution is to lobby our state legislators to allow FCPS to start the school year earlier so as to be in line with the nationally-scheduled tests (IB, AP, etc.). At least this will provide our students with a level playing field when it comes to having as much time to learn class material BEFORE exam time, like the majority of U.S. students (and I need to check the data on how many VA schools start earlier in the year than Fairfax), plus we wouldn’t have as many after-the test fest party days. Another suggestion: adjust our elementary school schedule so as to be in line with VA state minimal requirements. Currently, FCPS ES schedules do not meet the minimal requirements, due to the early Monday dismissals. As a former teacher, i understand the need for teacher planning time; FCPS could provide adequate planning time with full time Mondays and the addition of art, music and PE classes. For more info, check out http://fullschooldays.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/full-day-mondays-taken-away-from-three-elementary-schools/

    Comment by pommefrites — June 24, 2011 @ 6:36 am

    • That is a great solution and unfortunately one that was rejected by the legislature recently – unofficially known as “The Kings Dominion Law.” Perhaps we can organize a group of parents from Northern Virginia to lobby Richmond in person. I’m game – anyone else?

      Comment by Red Apple Mom — June 24, 2011 @ 9:44 am


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