An Invitation to the Legislature... Come to my Classroom!
Here in Virginia, the name given to the standards required for students to learn is unfortunate. We in the Commonwealth are used to it by now, but at first blush, it can be off-putting. Here we call them the S.O.L.s--an acronym that to most of the English speaking world stands for -- s**t out of luck. To Virginia families, that acronym applies to the... Standards of Learning. It is an unfortunate coincidence (hopefully it is a coincidence) to those students every year who must cycle through the repetitive retakes and remediation it takes them to hopefully pass these tests.
There have been some improvements as of late, with the high schools only requiring five SOLs to be passed starting during next academic year (2018-19). I have not looked at the details, but I'd assume that students require a science and social studies pass, along with a math and the two English SOLs--Writing and Reading.
By the way, I should state that this post is the result of having been in the studio with a former colleague of mine, high school English teacher, Allison Sprouse. When I asked her about a good day she'd had recently, she shared a bittersweet story about the latest SOL tests her students had taken. You can listen to the podcast here. She told me about a class of students who came in to her well below grade level, and how they went into the test ready to perform. The scores, however, did not spin out the way she'd have liked, thought they were higher, and more importantly showed growth in the students' learning.
I've known Allison for a while now, and both she and I are passionate about education, and when she finished her story, she said, "I'd like to invite the legislators, or anyone really, to come into my classroom or any classroom, and see what this standardized testing environment is like from the students' perspective." And I can say that, as a teacher I had situations where I'd be teaching an eleventh grade student with a second-grade reading level to pass a test that was written nine grade levels above him.
There is debate right now in the Commonwealth around this, and hopefully also in other states as well. Right now, one side of the fence is focused on localizing the criteria while the other is for keeping things the same. Without getting into partisan politics, I will merely break it down into what I think may be a cynical response regarding the use of the data. One side wants the data to use as a hammer when the data is negative and to trumpet initiatives when the data is good. The other side is thinking about the kids, and is worried about student growth and making sure that education regains some malleability within the context of the communities our schools are in.
What I wonder more than anything though, is that if legislators were to come into classrooms and experience the education our students are getting, would they be savvy enough to recognize just how different it is from what the modern workplace asks of its employees?