[Alternate title--> "SOLs: It means what you think it does"]
This morning I get the thrilling, chilling, coffee spilling task of proctoring the ever-dreaded, state-mandated Standards of Learning test for English 11– affectionately termed the SOL. I assure you wholeheartedly, it is no misnomer.
These tests, for all subjects and most grade levels, are designed presumably to assess one’s general knowledge of a course’s subject matter, after X number of hours of classroom time. And since a passing score on each test is required for graduation, their goal is to ensure that upon exiting high school, you know at least “this much.” <Holds hands up to measure from here to here.> But here’s the problem I am witnessing, and regrettably helping to perpetuate, semester after semester, at John Q. Public High School… (You had to have known a high horse, soap boxy rant was forthcoming…) We are raising a generation of test takers instead of problem solvers.
From kindergarten through grade 12, we train them to read the questions and select the best answer choice, A B C or D. And no one ever tells them that the real world is not in multiple choice format. Life’s decisions do not have 25% guaranteed odds. There are no field test questions “for research purposes only” that do not count against you. And your successes (and failures) will not be measured on a scaled score– PASS/PASS-PROFICIENT/PASS-ADVANCED. And scarier still? You will not get an opportunity to retake life’s tests over and over until you pass! Nope, folks (and by folks I mean tax-payers), life is not designed this way.
Now I’m not saying that the ability to pass a test is of no importance at all, as today’s job force has proven to occasionally require tests. And sometimes you need quantifiable data to prove your worth. That’s just the math of it. I just find it shameful that standardized test scores seem to be the primary, if not only, way we are teaching kids to measure their academic success and intellect. And that simply doesn’t mirror reality. In fact, it’s dangerous.
Are we spending so much time on test prep and administration because we are assuming that mom and dad (And in about 19 million households across America, just mom) have crucial life lessons and decision making skills handled? Bad news! (See “Learning life lessons while playing hooky…” post.) The bottom line is, we are sending our kids out into an “Extended Response” world with a “Multiple Choice” attitude… and aptitude. And WE are the one’s that have to grow old in the world they will, then, be running. Do I have your attention yet?
Unfortunately, I don’t see the SOLs going anywhere any time soon. Almost every state has now adopted a similar variation of the same monster. “Accountability,” they call it. Whatever. I have my own name for it. And as a public school teacher, I have no choice but to play along and drill my students, day after day, until they are at the very least “proficient” at “reading each question and choosing the letter which represents the best answer choice.” But as a mom? As a mom, my job is much larger than that…
As Zachary gets older, his world will present him with daily challenges and choices. And his dad and I vow to try hard to teach him to THINK, and not just take someone’s word for it. We will encourage him to create, to embrace, to navigate, to play, to give, to trust, to appreciate, to avoid dangers, and to seize opportunities. We want him to learn to fall, to rise back up again, to praise, and to be aware, of not just his surroundings, but his potential influence. And foremostly, to Go, Do, Be! Because we are his parents and that is our job. We will be receiving no data-driven score report or retake schedule on this one… You may begin.
Source for statistic:
Mather, Mark. “U.S. Children in Single Mother Families.” Population Reference Bureau. 2012. PRB. 10 Jan 2012.