The Standards of Learning (SOL) exams have so dominated the landscape of the post No Child Left Behind era of public education, that every teacher and student frets over the last few weeks of school and whether or not they’re ready for their academic moment of reckoning.

“Normally [kids] are so excited to tell me everything that they know and to show it off,” said Carysbrook Elementary 3rd grade teacher Jennifer Flood at the school board meeting Wednesday (May 8).  “But, we are testing the kids a lot.  Instead of the children being excited to show me what they know, I’m starting to see that excitement replaced with worry, anxiety and stress about how well they are going to do on the test.”

The SOL tests are handed down from the Virginia Department of Education to fulfill the assessment criteria of the federal No Child Left Behind bill of 2002.  However, the SOLs are not the only standardized tests Fluvanna’s public school children take.  Students also take the Interactive Achievement test at the beginning and end of the year for teachers to know what materials the student has been exposed to, and the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test which measures academic growth rather than just achievement.  Most of these tests can’t just be taken once; they have to be taken several times through out the year to measure progress.  The average Fluvanna County Public Schools student sits for nine state- or district-level standardized tests per school year, which translates to over 81 standardized tests in a 12-year school career.

Most Fluvanna teachers see the SOLs as a necessary evil, it’s the MAP test they take umbrage with.  MAP testing is being used in more than 5,000 school districts across the country, but has been criticized in just as many.  Critics don’t like its use in teacher evaluation, especially since the test is not tied to one grade level.  Originally designed by research directors, not teachers, MAP is designed to measure students’ academic level, independent of their age or year in school.  That means that a third grader could be looking at a question about algebra or Shakespeare.

“The problem with the MAP test is that it is not based on the standards that we actually teach the children,” said Flood.  “The children become discouraged.  They want to do well, but when they see things on the test that they don’t know anything about, I’ve seen children melt down in tears.”

The Fluvanna Education Association, who represents Fluvanna’s Public Schools Teachers, agrees with Flood, kids are over tested.

“We spend too much time on testing administration,” said FEA co-president Gloria Scherer.  “If the tests are all reliable, then multiple date becomes repetitive.”

Most significantly, the state of Virginia requires that teachers be evaluated in a quantifiable way.  Fluvanna has chosen to use the scores from the MAP tests to rate teachers on the progress their students.  This is cause for concern for some parents.

“My fourth grader did very well at the beginning of the year on the MAP testing, she tested at an eleventh grade reading level.  How much further is my fourth grader expected to get by the end of the year to prove she has a good teacher?  Should the teacher be evaluated if my fourth grader doesn’t progress beyond the eleventh grade level?” said Fluvanna County Schools parent Kerry Murphy-Hammond.

As for the school administration, they’ve encouraged teachers to propose another solution for quantifiable teacher evaluation other than MAP testing.

“It’s not that teachers don’t want to be held accountable, it’s about balancing,” said Fluvanna Superintendent Gena Keller.  “Sometimes we’re robbed of the ability to balance and make choices.  We have assessments that we are required to give, and that’s not going to change at the snap of a finger.”



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