Over the years, many teachers, parents and school administrators have raised concerns about the number of standardized tests Virginia students must endure over their K-12 career. By the time this year’s high school seniors graduate, most will have taken more than 30 standardized tests.
While it’s important to find measuring sticks for both teachers and students, requiring them to spend huge chunks of time cramming for standardized tests each year certainly isn’t optimal. Most veteran educators say preparing for standardized tests like the SOL take away precious class time and costs large school districts like Fairfax millions of dollars that would be better spent improving instruction.
Fortunately, test-related changes may be coming.
Last November, the Fairfax County School Board passed a resolution calling for testing reform, joining a growing movement in school boards across the state pushing for an overhaul of the Standards of Learning assessments. The resolution, which was approved unanimously, asked the state General Assembly and Board of Education to re-examine the assessment system, which currently requires each student to take 34 SOL exams between grades three and 11.
Picking up on that theme, Virginia Dels. Tag Greason (R-Loudoun) and Robert Krupicka Jr. (D-Alexandria) introduced bills last week that would cut the number of tests students would take from 34 to 26 while empowering local school boards to explore different ways of assessing student, teacher and school performance.
There are sure to be more than a few twists and turns on the long road to standardized test reform, but the ball moved forward last week.
“SOL tests have their purpose, but with 34 tests and all the practice tests, our schools have become testing sweat shops.” Krupicka said in a statement. “Replacing selected SOL tests with authentic and project based assessments gives teachers flexibility in the classroom, allows the public to be sure content is being taught, while allowing for learning assessment that more accurately and comprehensively measure student learning.”
Krupicka’s statement adequately sums up dozens of conversations we’ve had with parents and teachers in Fairfax County over the past decade.
For many, one of the biggest knocks on the current system is that standardized tests don’t always measure learning accurately. Standardized tests, with their hit-or-miss multiple choice format, make it difficult for students to express themselves. More than a few educators — including those in Fairfax County — have advocated for assessments that are open-ended.
Another criticism is that the stakes are too high, creating a high-pressure school environment where fear often trumps learning. Nobody wins when the test score of a third-grade student can cost a teacher or administrator their job.
That pressure leads to other issues, including teachers who “teach to the test” and spend an inordinate amount of the 180-day school year studying for tests or actually taking them. It probably isn’t a stretch to say the average student in Fairfax County spends between 20 and 25 days a year taking tests. That’s too much.
At the end of the day, the world is changing. Sticking with a familiar strategy in a dynamic world might be easier, but it isn’t doing much for our students, teachers or school system.
We’re hopeful that the bills recently put forward by Dels. Greason and Krupicka actually get some traction in Richmond this month. Fairfax County’s 180,000-plus students would be better for it.