Tom Joad's Place

Welcome to Tom Joad's Place! Join me for political discussion and banter on important national subjects and VA politics. I've also noticed that there are a lot of people looking for information on "Grapes of Wrath". Look for the sidebar and we'll discuss. Contact Kevin, at

Location: Fairfax, Virginia, United States

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

High stakes testing...valuable?

They are finally holding students accountable in Maryland. It's about time they caught up. Virginia has been doing this for years.

From the Washington Post:

"The Maryland High School Assessments -- administered after algebra, English, biology and government courses -- are the state's answer to a national movement that aims to ensure graduates are better prepared for college and the workforce. Geared toward material taught late in middle school and early in high school, the tests are meant to establish a baseline value for a high school diploma.

"Some students right now are getting diplomas that aren't worth the paper they're written on," said Ronald A. Peiffer, deputy superintendent for academic policy at the Maryland State Department of Education. "This would help eliminate that problem."

Virginia and 22 other states also tie graduation to student performance on statewide exit or end-of-course exams, according to Education Week. D.C. public schools do not, but an official said District schools are headed in a similar direction."

Maryland is joining other states, 22 I believe, that have "high stakes testing" as a way of determining whether a student has mastered content of particular courses. This is a good first step for Maryland schools because as you can see here they aren't necessarily the best out there. Thirty percent in Prince George's County? That's absurd!

Virginia has the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests that measure whether a student has sufficiently gleaned enough information from a course. Most tests are a requirement for graduation in Fairfax County. For instance, a student must pass six SOLs (two English, one math, one social science, one science, and one of the student's choosing) for a standard diploma and nine SOLs plus have three years of a foriegn language for an advanced diploma. If you are a student with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), there is a diploma option where only two SOLs have to be completed.

The funny thing about this high stakes testing business is that it does not affect private schools at all because they do not receive funding from the local, state or federal government. That means in Virginia, private schools do not have to complete the SOLs. They can graduate without having to be faced with pressurized testing situations. The point is that if you have enough money you can buy your kid a high school diploma if it's necessary.

The key with all of these diploma options is flexibility. It also does not hurt to have the standardized scores adapted every year depending on last year's test results as we have with the SOLs. The Maryland way of doing things is too constricting. There are only four tests (English, algebra, government, and biology) and you have to pass all four or no diploma. Does this take into account the special education population? What about students that are better at chemistry than biology? Multiple chances are nice. Sometimes students have a bad test day and receiving another test allows the student another opportunity to succeed.

The consequences of high stakes testing are of course less money devoted to the arts such as music, art class, and theatre. Money for physical education will be cut. Special education funds will be increased but only slightly and the basics (math, english, social studies, and science) will be increased but not enough to affect scores. Will high school diplomas be worth more for those who can achieve it? What happens to the students who do not succeed at passing the tests?

Teachers, educators, and parents are definitely going to be under pressure to help children succeed. Instead of working against each other with law suits and bickering, they should band together and come up with real solutions. School board members across the nation would have an open ear.

Blogarama - The Blogs Directory