Standardized Testing and NCLB

By Tracey Pilone
May 11, 2009

Here in Virginia it's SOL testing time (that's Standards of Learning, not what you were thinking) and that means that parents everywhere are waxing philosophic about standardized testing and No Child Left Behind.

First, some background. NCLB, which most people have heard of, required several things of the public schools that decide to take Federal Title I funding. Basically, every public school system is in this camp. One of the things that was required, and tends to get the most attention, was that testing be done on an annual basis and that the results of these tests determine weather schools are considered adequate or failing. For the executive summary of the entire law, visit the Department of Education.

There are some major misconceptions about NCLB. First, the Federal Government requires what subjects (math, reading, and eventually science) are tested and the grades the testing occurs, and the tests evaluate the schools, not the individual student. The tests themselves are left up to the states. They do not need to be multiple choice tests, although they typically end up this way because it is the least expensive testing route. In addition, there is no Federal standard for what material needs to be on these tests. The state sets the curriculum goals and then writes their own test, NOT the US Government.

So, here in Virginia, we have the SOLs which are your typical, multiple choice, bubble tests, that are given on more than just the required subjects for NCLB and most kids end up taking at least one between 3rd and 8th grade. They start to spread out after that. A lot of parents feel like there is too much emphasis on testing, teachers "teach to the test", that they should be eliminated - it's mostly negative.

In my estimation, standardized tests are not inherently bad, nor should parents try to shelter their children from them. These tests are a fact of life, and parents need to accept that and work within that paradigm. That being said, there are good tests and bad tests and there is a long way to go on many of the tests that are being administered in Virginia and across the country. For parents that are concerned, a positive route would be to first, work with their students on their test taking skills, and second, start investigating who at the state level is developing the tests. From there, they can start to have some input into the process.

Another thing that gets dropped from testing complaints is generally, if the subject matter itself is in hand for the student, the tests should be trivial. Instead, teachers, students and parents, often allow themselves to become overly focused on the test and give it more attention than it is due. Even if it's only a halfway decent test, if the student learns the material and some test taking prep, the rest tends to work itself out.

So don't worry! As long as you learn your Algebra, you won't be SOL on the SOLs (sorry, I couldn't help it.)


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