Saturday, June 27, 2009

Thoughts on Standards of Learning Tests in Virginia

On June 25, I spoke to the Virginia Board of Education about the proposal that had been withdrawn by the state superintendent regarding the elimination of the 3rd grade Standards of Learning (SOL) test that she had proposed back in April. Even though she had withdrawn the proposed change, I thought it was important to share the report that my organization, the Virginia Education Association, had done with regard to our members' thoughts and opinions regarding the 3rd grade SOL in general as well as high stakes testing for young children in particular.

The remarks I made to the Board of Education are below. The report that I referenced may be found on the VEA's web site at

I would like to offer one more thought from my own personal and professional perspective before offering the public remarks made at the Board of Education meeting yesterday.

We have become a nation of test takers and test givers. My contention is that memorization is now being mistaken for learning and one's ability to pass a single test on a single day in a single school year has been mistaken for achievement. I worry that our children will forever lose their ability to try and fail, to experiment, or to be willing to create and innovate without a guarantee of success because the subliminal message built into the single test mode of assessment is that there is only one right answer and there is no room--or tolerance--for miscalculation or for being wrong.

I wonder how well Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison would have functioned in the classrooms of today?

Remarks for Virginia Board of Education
By Dr. Kitty Boitnott, President
Virginia Education Association
June 25, 2009

Dr. Emblidge, Dr. Wright, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Board:
My name is Kitty Boitnott, and I am the President of the Virginia Education Association.
We were surprised last month when we first heard of the proposed elimination of the third grade social studies SOL test. We weren’t sure how our members would feel about the proposal, so we asked them. I gave Mrs. Castro copies of our report yesterday, and we will be posting the results of our survey on our web site today.
We understand that the specific proposal to eliminate the social studies test for 3rd grade has been taken off the table, but we would offer that the interest that the initial proposal created suggests that the issue of testing and its importance and impact are near and dear to the hearts of many, and while this specific proposal is no longer under consideration, it might be that you would want to take this time as an opportunity to fully review and reflect on the whole issue of high stakes testing and the impact of that testing on young children.
The one missing piece, it seems to me, in this whole debate has been what is in the best interest of children? I respect the interests of the various subject matter experts and those who sincerely believe that if it isn’t tested it won’t receive the attention it should, but I would suggest that what has been missed in this entire debate is, “Where do 8 and 9-year-old's fit in the puzzle?” Is it fair to ask them to deal with the stresses of such high stakes tests? What happens to the joy of learning when everything rides on a single test score?
Clearly our members had more questions than answers to offer, but we took from the responses that we received that this issue is important to them as teachers and as parents. I hope you will take this opportunity to discuss the whole issue of testing rather than focus on the merits—or demerits—of one particular test.