Saturday, January 28, 2012

Victory or Defeat

The current General Assembly of Virginia is considering a law to eliminate third and fifth grade Standards testing in Science and Social Studies. (Senate Bill 185)  The bill comes from a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee report on "Promoting Third Grade Reading Performance in Virginia."

This legislation could be a positive move toward acknowledging the pitfalls of so much standardized testing of students, but unfortunately the tone of the legislation points to other motives.  The rationale stated for this change is that eliminating the focus on Science and Social Studies testing, teachers and schools can focus more on the basic skills of reading and math.

Sen. John Miller (D) is quoted as saying "I think it's more important that the students be able to learn to read history textbooks than just to test them."  True, that without a foundation in reading and math, students will later struggle with History and Science.  But, current legislation creates such "high stakes" for testing that elimination of Social Studies and Science testing will certainly lead teachers and schools to de-emphasize these subjects.

Research shows that students who fail the third grade test are fifty percent more likely to fail in fifth grade.  Officials doubt that Virginia will reach the goal of a 95% pass rate under the current framework.  So what are the pass rates?  Currently, rates are between 80% and 86% (83% in 2010).  This means that 15%-20% of Virginia students are not reading at an acceptable level (as measured by standardized tests for which schools and teachers, not individual students are held accountable).

What about the 85% who do learn how to read in 3rd grade and will continue to improve into 5th grade?  In a one-size-fits-all (maybe even one-test-fits-all) system, those students are likely to suffer through redundant and unnecessary additional practice in order to make sure reading and math scores are acceptable, instead of widening their learning into other subjects.

Here's a solution.  Test the third graders in math and reading.  Then, instead of punishing their teachers or schools, provide the resources needed to help these students achieve while also providing them and their peers a well-rounded education.  I am glad that third and fifth graders may have two less tests to take in the coming years, but I fear that my children will attend elementary schools that have become well-oiled math and language arts factories geared to produce the best test scores before sending their students on to the next testing machine.

*this bill passed the Senate on January 24, 33-7

1 comment:

  1. I favor the removal of these tests but fear the result. As you suggest, if these test go away, so will any emphasis on these subjects in a test driven world. So the students will essentially just get less science + hist and trade it for more math + english. Hope not, but likely. Sad.