State No-Go on Test Drive

By Bob Stuart
Published in the News Virginia

Virginia won’t jump onboard a push for national K-12 standards if it means dumping the state’s standardized test, the governor and other state officials said.

The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers on Wednesday released a draft proposal of the standards, aimed in part at repairing what some educators consider flaws in the federal No Child Left Behind program.

Some of the proposed English and math benchmarks already are partially embedded in Virginia’s standardized test, known as the Standards of Learning, or SOL, educators said.

While Gov. Robert F. McDonnell supports the idea of international benchmarks, he said he does not want to substitute the core English and math standards for the SOL’s.

“The commonwealth’s policies have demonstrated a significant commitment to accountability, benchmarks and positive education reform,’’ McDonnell said in a statement. “While we support the development of internationally benchmarked targets, we do not have a desire to substitute the common core standards for our Standards of Learning.”

Recommendations on national core standards could lead to reform in Virginia’s math and English standards, just not the end of the SOLs, said state Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle.

“We are 15 years into a successful standards-based reform,’’ Pyle said. “There is no discussion on the Board of Education about abandoning the Standards of Learning.”

The federal No Child Left Behind law has garnered criticism for its escalating yearly pass targets in core subjects and punishments for school districts failing to meet adequate yearly progress.

An expert said the voluntary core standards would offer a better alternative.

“Let’s have some common agreement and let’s back away from the micromanagement,’’ said Michael Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank in Washington, D.C.

Petrilli said if following the national core standards gets Washington out of managing education, it would help.

“When it comes to fixing schools not making the grade, it is a state responsibility,’’ he said.

Staunton Schools Superintendent Steven Nichols said Virginia’s math SOLs were developed in conjunction with the standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Other states have adopted less stringent standards to make it easier to comply with No Child, he said.

“Many states went into it doing what is the minimum to qualify,’’ Nichols said.

A more rigorous national standard for math and English could mean every state’s standards are the same, he said.

The proposed national math standards have kids learning addition and subtraction in the first grade and muliplication, division and fractions in the third grade.

Nichols said he’s convinced students are spending more time on social networking than reading and writing.

“Writing comes through repetition. We don’t do that,’’ he said. “It’s an unfortunate outgrowth of the information age.”

The core national English standards offer guidelines for elementary students learning poetry and require the reading of literary classics such as John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” for students in grades 9-10 and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby’’ for students in grades 11-12.

Nichols said he believes schools have been too quick to drop the classics.

That, educators contend, is partially the product of No Child, which has resulted in learning centered on standardized tests.

The signature domestic initiative of President George W. Bush, the law has succeeded in narrowing the achievement gap between whites and minorities but has hurt more than helped, said Scott Abernathy, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, who wrote a 2007 book, “No Child Left Behind and the Public Schools.”

Among its chief flaws, Abernathy said, No Child has “inhibited critical thinking and problem-solving.”

Ultimately, Petrilli said, what needs to happen is that more students who receive high school diplomas leave ready to pursue either higher education or work.

He said 30 pecent of college freshmen are taking remedial courses, meaning they are not ready for college work.

Augusta County Superintendent Gary McQuain said students who take college preparatory courses in that district are ready for higher education, while those taking a more minimal curriculum might not be.

Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Robin Crowder said colleges use screening tests to determine what kind of remediation students need, and that remediation also could depend on what the student plans to study in college.

McQuain said a debate such as the one spurred by national standards for English and math can only be helpful.

“Any time there is a discussion about what students need to be successful, it is a positive discussion. It can’t help but help us,’’ he said.

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2 Responses to “State No-Go on Test Drive”

  1. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO TEACH TO THE TEST? « Citizen Tom Says:

    […] relates to Virginia’s involvement in the CCSSI. We are a full participant.  This post, State No-Go on Test Drive, is from News Virginia. Fortunately, Governor Bob McDonnell seems to be having some reservations. […]

  2. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO TEACH TO THE TEST? « Citizen Tom Says:

    […] post relates to Virginia’s involvement in the CCSSI. We are a full participant.  This post, State No-Go on Test Drive, is from News Virginia. Fortunately, Governor Bob McDonnell seems to be having some reservations. […]


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