banner ad

LIVE & LEARN: Early SOL Testing, ‘the Fog Begins’

| April 10, 2016 | 0 Comments | News

liveandlearnlogoDuring spring break many traveled to beaches, mountains, across the country or across the sea. Some stayed home to relax and get stuff done. I ventured to Iceland with friends to see the Northern Lights. While the chances we would see them were low, they came out the second night and took my breath away. Bucket list – CHECK! 

While the break was wonderful, returning from spring break means one thing for educators: we enter the pre-SOL testing phase of the school year. Teachers are forced to wrap up their year-long course curriculum. Instead of learning something new until June, review packets begin to show up in the teachers’ lounges, waiting to be copied, and testing coordinators send emails full of schedules. The environment quickly becomes tense, stressful and at times overwhelming for teachers and students as multiple announcements blare, reminding everyone to be quiet when switching classes. 

PHASE 1: Testing Window

After perusing the state testing window requirements, I am disappointed Virginia allows the testing to begin April 11. APRIL 11!!!??? Why so early? What teacher can finish her curriculum by mid-April? Only a teacher who teaches to the test, which is not what education is suppose to be. Shame on you, Virginia!

‘EOC’ means End of Course, not ‘end of 3rd quarter, so you can test, then find something else to occupy your students until summer recess.’ Prince William County begins testing May 4. It’s not April 11, but it’s still very early. The testing window, which once began at the end of May, has been moved up to make room for expedited retakes. 

PHASE 2: Expedited Retakes

Last year at the last minute, the state forced school divisions to offer retakes for those students in grades 3-8 who met specific criteria, but did not pass their SOL tests. I tried to think of the positive aspects of the retakes, but in the end there were more negatives. Due to retakes, children lost valuable instructional time. ‘Teaching time’ is replaced by ‘review time, testing time, reteach time and retake time.’ How is this fair to our children? Is this what education has become? 

When I realized that my students were testing in the first group, on May 4, I spent an afternoon pulling out all the fun, hands-on activities from my lesson plans as I just won’t have time for them! 

A colleague said to me, “Well, at least you have 6½ weeks at the end of the year to do all the fun stuff you are taking out, right?”

The sick feeling I had in the pit of my stomach came rushing forth in a frustrated, angry growl.

“Everything I am taking out will help them remember the material in the first place!” I said. “Why can’t I just teach them the entire curriculum and test at the end of the year?” 

My frustration led me to send an email to Dr. Steven Staples, the Superintendent of Public Instruction for Virginia. Here is an excerpt:

Dear Dr. Staples,

My name is Riley O’Casey, and I am an 8th grade Civics teacher in Prince William County. I am also the Vice President of the Prince William Education Association. I am writing to you about concerns I have regarding the SOL testing window for Spring 2016.

My school recently received the testing schedule and I noticed that testing started May 4. I might not have been so concerned except for the fact that Civics is testing first. I don’t even know if I will finish my curriculum and review by May 4. 

How can the testing window for and END OF COURSE test begin in May? There are 6 1/2 weeks left of school. When I realized I had so little time left, I spent a solid four hours looking at what needed to be taken out of my curriculum in order to finish it by May 4.  

Dr. Staples, the fun stuff I took out is what my students need in order to retain the material. Civics is a very abstract subject and 8th graders are still very concrete. They need the mock trials, electoral college simulations, third party experiments, creating their own business and presidential campaign simulations to understand the material…otherwise I am teaching to the test.

I know the testing window has been expanded due to the retakes. Retakes for SOL testing is really not for the children. It is for the schools and school divisions to have a few more students do better so they can please the state. Retakes are wrong on so many levels, especially for students in grades 3-8. The ugliest unintended consequence of imposing retakes on schools is the measurable loss of instructional time. I can measure the loss of instructional time my students will miss because of retakes. Last year, I tested in the beginning of June. This year, I test at the beginning of May. That is a month of lost instructional time.

Do we really need to start testing so early? Do we really need the retake window to be from June 3 – June 16? While I understand a change this year is next to impossible, is there any way to look at the testing window for next year? 

In the meantime, I guess it’s good we have retakes. I may just finish my curriculum but it will be completed by teaching to the test.  This type of teaching is not good for my students. I pray that they remember the information and pass the test. Logic says: test later so they can permanently learn the information along with some fun, and not have to retake. Where is the logic from our state educators?

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

 As of April 10, I still have not heard back from Dr. Staples.

This column is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Bristow Beat, its staff or sponsors. 

© 2016, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

Facebook Comments
Print Friendly

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: News

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

banner ad