New and Improved Unrealistic SOL Targets

One of the more contentious requirements under NCLB is the requirement that school’s pass an increasing percentage of students on their annual state assessments, with the final goal of 100% of students passing their state exams by 2014. To achieve that goal state Departments of Education were required to submit a plan to the US Dept of Ed. listing targeted pass percentages, which were referred to as Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) goals. Schools in that state were evaluated on whether they achieved their AYP goals or not.

Schools in Virgina, and lots of other states, had a hard time meeting their AYP targets. Last year Virginia applied for and received a waiver from meeting their planned AYP targets, but had to submit a revised plan to remain in compliance with NCLB. The revised plan, which was approved by the US Dept of Ed., is below:

2010 – 2011 86% Passing
2011 – 2012 91% Passing
2012 – 2013 96% Passing
2013 – 2014 100% Passing

2010 – 2011 85% Passing
2011 – 2012 90% Passing
2012 – 2013 95% Passing
2013 – 2014 100% Passing

While I think accountability is generally a good thing, setting targets that are completely unrealistic and then holding schools accountable for failing to meet those unrealistic targets is idiotic. Yes, NCLB mandates that schools pass 100% of their students by 2014, and we have to play along if we want to continue receiving federal money for education. But no one in their right mind thinks it’s possible to pass 100% of students on state mandated exams in reading or math.

Virginia had to revise our targets pass percentages because we couldn’t meet the targets we set when NCLB was implemented and our new targets are just as unrealistic. Over the past 3 years, as this chart shows, we barely meet the lowest targeted pass percentages, and our pass rates haven’t been increasing. Just like we were unable to meet our original pass targets, I highly doubt we’ll be able to meet these new targets.

Which brings about a bigger issue. We’re supposed to be teaching our children that integrity and courage are good things, but when push comes to shove, we capitulate and play along when the federal government mandates that we achieve unrealistic goals. In doing so we mislead the public into believing that we can achieve those goals when we know full well that it’ll never happen. Worse, we force our schools into such tizzy that making sure the right percentage of students pass the state exam is the highest priority, not ensuring that they have the knowledge necessary to move onto the next level.

According to an elected official I spoke with, about 3 – 5% of the funds Virginia receives are subject to the NCLB targets (that excludes funds for programs like free and reduced lunch, title 1, IDEA, and other programs). We roll over and play dead to unrealistic federal mandates which have undermined the education all of our children receive, over 3 – 5%.

Remember that 3 – 5% when your child’s teacher stops teaching in April and has your child “study” old SOL questions all day long.

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