I have been observing the aberration of No Child Left Behind, and its negative effects on our Virginia public school system since it began. Like many such initiatives, it had the best of intentions, however was not based on reality, but on impossible-to-achieve goals of 100% pass rates for entire school populations, to be accomplished in an equally unrealistic time frame.
It comes as no surprise that as the years have progressed, more and more schools and school divisions fail to achieve AYP. Additionally, because of its convoluted calculations, the determination of which schools make or do not make AYP is poorly understood by the public, who are simply reading that their schools are “failing”. The true tragedy, however, does not lie in the categorization of schools that “made AYP” or “did not make AYP”.
The true tragedy – which should have been foreseeable – lies elsewhere. It lies in the slow erosion of Virginia’s Standards of Learning test structure, which, to the contrary, was originally much more “reality-based” and well thought out. When established, the SOLs, which encompass the basic core curriculum needed for a solid education, required testing in the 3d, 5th, 8th and End of Course grades, to be used as a measurement of a school’s ability to properly educate its students, and was to be used as a measurement of the quality of those schools instructional ability, allowing them to correct their programs where necessary in view of results. The “pass rates” for the subjects were established at 70% – i.e., the student had to get 70% of the answers right to pass. Fewer, and you did not pass.
Testing was done 4 years out of 12, leaving the schools a great deal of latitude in establishing their educational programs. Alas, when NCLB reared its ugly head, with its unachievable demands, this structure was fatally compromised. Not only were two more testing years – 4th and 6th grades for English/Math – added to the mix, but the time frame to reach perfection (100% pass rate in 2014) precipitated the
only response the VDOE knew how to make. Drop the SOL pass-rate standards.
No longer is it necessary to have 70% of correct answers to the test questions. Depending on the subject matter, it can be as low as 50%. How would any of you like to operated on by a surgeon who only got 50% of his/her answers right during their medical exams? (to see exact percentages, go to www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/scoring/cut_scores.pdf).
The true tragedy is that we are all being lulled into a false sense of security. Oh yes, test scores are rising – but only because our SOL pass rate requirements have been steadily dropping. We applaud students who pass – but are they truly learning what they need to know in today’s ever more competitive society? Or are they being short-changed? Are we chasing after ersatz pass-rates at the expense of true knowledge?
We know that the world is becoming more competitive, and our nation – once a world leader – is falling behind in education. We cannot continue on this path. Not only should we dump NCLB as soon as possible, we desperately need to restore our SOLs to their former levels of true quality.
There is no substitute for true excellence. Not now, not ever.
Robina Rich Bouffault
Ms. Bouffault represents the White Post election district on the Clarke County School Board