The Parental Backlash Against SOL Tests

SOL LogoBy Peter Galuszka

Although their numbers are small, more Virginia parents are refusing to have their children take the state’s Standards of Learning tests, saying that test preparation takes away from true education.

In the 2013 -14 school year, 681 SOL tests were coded as parent refusals out of the nearly three million given, with Northern Virginia, Prince William County in particular, having the highest number.

Some parents are annoyed that teachers in public schools spend so much time teaching how to take the SOLs, which are used to measure a child’s educational standing and also rate how well school districts are performing.

“Students can spend up to one-third of their time of the school year preparing for the tests and that is wrong,” says Gabriel Reich, an associate professor of teaching and learning at Virginia Commonwealth University. Last year, he refused to allow his fifth-grade daughter to take the tests.

It isn’t really clear if parents and their children have the legal right to take the tests or not. If parents refuse, the child gets a “zero.” That might go against the school’s overall rating.

How it affects the student isn’t clear. Continual refusals could keep children out of special programs, such as ones for gifted students. But students from private schools, where SOLs are not usually taken, regularly transfer to public schools with little problem.

In different parts of the state, parents have formed grass roots groups to educate and support parents who have concerns that the mania for standardized testing is hurting true education.

Throughout the state, ad hoc groups are forming where parents can meet and plan refusals. In Richmond, RVA Opt Out meets every third Monday evening of the month and has tripled its attendance in the past several years.

Confronting standardized testing is in part a reaction of politicians who insist that standardized testing is a primary – if not the only – way to make sure that students are being educated properly. Such tests have been around for years but got a strong boost in former President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program of 2002.

Standardized testing has also been used as a weapon against teachers’ unions. Some politicians have suggested that data from SOLs and other tests be collated and configured to give individual teachers ratings that could be made public – something teachers associations bitterly oppose.

What’s more, SOL and other similar data have been used for purposes that have little to do with education. Realtors often collect schools’ performance data to push home sales in certain neighborhoods to give for sale prospects snob appeal.

Critics say that multiple-choice testing doesn’t always reflect a student’s ability to think or show what he or she really understands. It also doesn’t reflect creativity to draw, paint or perform or write music.

The anti-testing movement is growing nationally. In one case in New York state, about 1.1 million children in grades three through eight typically take reading and math tests. Last year, about 67,000 children skipped the tests.

The push-back is growing.

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33 responses to “The Parental Backlash Against SOL Tests

  1. As the father of two daughters in Fairfax County public schools, one a kindergartner and the other fifth grader, I am glad that the SOLs and other, similar, “high-stakes” tests are being challenged. Learning is much more than “cramming.”

  2. SOLs suck. A number of teachers at my son’s high school “teach to the test,” and the quality of the educational experience is diminished as a result. So, I’m totally sympathetic to parents who dislike the SOLs.

    But SOLs aren’t designed to maximize the educational experience of above-average students. They’re geared to achieving minimal standards for at-risk students and low achievers. Basically, it’s a leveling mechanism — something that those who inveigh against “privilege” in our society should love, I would think.

    Also, while using SOLs to measure the educational value-added for individual teachers may be controversial, certainly there is value to tracking educational performance for school divisions and schools. What other alternative do critics have for holding schools and school systems accountable? Given the fact that most parents can’t afford private school and effectively have no educational options if their kids’ school sucks, what do they do?

    • So which do you choose when the aggregation gives you seemingly contradictory results, like when a school or school system underperforms on the SOLs broadly but still puts up better VAT numbers than neighboring educational institutions?

      Also, if the SOLs are so important for comparing educational institutions how come the state doesn’t force them upon private schools? Why is it accepted as an article of faith that private schools are superior at delivering educational outcomes?

  3. Standardized tests are a fact of life. Want to enlist in the Army? Take the VSAB. Want to go to college? Take the ACT or SAT. Want to be a licensed accountant? Take the CPA exam. Want to prove you know networks? Take the CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate).

    Jim asks a good question – if not for standardized tests how would parents determine whether their children’s school is effective or not?

    • Talk to their children? Look at their homework? Go over their tests with them? Meet their teachers? Be involved in their lives?

      • would the average person EVEN KNOW what level of proficiency they need to be at – say in 3rd grade ?

      • “using whatever metrics” – really?

        what metrics if SOLs are gone?

        do you know what the NCLB law actually says?

        it does not require SOLs – neither does COmmon Core

        what NCLB requires is that you have standardized way to measure proficiency …

        it’s up to you to choose which way.

        so my question is – are folks opposed to SOLs or are they opposed to using standardized tests to measure academic proficiency.

        when you and I went to school – tell me how parents knew their kids were actually getting the level of knowledge they would need?

        many, many parents just ASSUMED their kids were being “educated” til the kid grew up and could not get into college or get a job. Today we have people who graduated from school who are literally crippled in terms of education – cannot get a good enough job to pay their expenses and rely on entitlements instead – and – they are having kids – and sending them to schools that are NOT providing those kids with a minimum acceptable education sufficient for them to grow up and become employed.

        we are alone of the 25 countries that beat us academically in our thinking of standardized testing – and curricula.

        we have huge numbers of chronically unemployed who will never qualify for anything more than common laborer or service jobs – of which taxpayers will supplement with entitlements.

        basically – anti-test is anti-education – the modern day equivalent of Ludditism.

        As DonR was saying – you cannot get into the Military with passing a test – and more than a 1/3 of our kids – cannot pass the Armed Forces test:

        “The ASVAB is a timed multi-aptitude test, which is given at over 14,000 schools and Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS) nationwide and is developed and maintained by the Department of Defense.

        How important is the ASVAB test?

        Your scores in four critical areas — Arithmetic Reasoning, Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension and Mathematics Knowledge (see below) — count towards your Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT) score. The AFQT score determines whether you’re qualified to enlist in the U.S. military.”

      • Having 5 sons I have a bit of experience. Looking at my children’s homework from a single school does nothing to tell me how that school performs vs other schools. Nor does looking at their tests or meeting teachers (they are uniformly nice people). I know that progressive dogma doesn’t allow for competition or comparisons of any type – especially not for governmental entities. Everybody is above average and everybody should get a shiny participation trophy at the end of the season. Unfortunately, the real world outside of liberal logic and monopolized governmental entities is a place of continual competition and comparison. The idea that parents can judge the relative quality of their children’s school by looking at the child’s homework or meeting their teachers is absurd. When you need surgery perhaps you’d like a doctor who was certified by being pleasant in person and showing off some of their tests from med school. Me? I’ll opt for the doctors who passed their medical boards.

        • Where did I say a thing about pleasantness? I love watching my words be turned to straw and thence to men.

          I’ll opt for the surgeon who passed the medical boards and the teacher who passed the PRAXIS, but beyond that I’ll meet with them, question them on their process and make an informed decision that way.

          And again, I ask, what choice is to be made when the test aggregation give contradictory results? Do you choose the school with the best overall SOL performance or the best VAT? How many years is your sample size? What happens when the year-to-year variance renders the data almost meaningless? Private schools don’t have to take SOLs and yet it’s held as a truism that they’re better than their public counterparts, why don’t we need evidence to judge them?

          I think everyone here was raised before the advent of standardized testing and I think all of our parents were able to make decisions about the quality of education we were receiving. To say that standardized tests are the only way to do this is preposterously limiting.

  4. DonR has it right. it’s not about “leveling”. It’s how Europe and Japan are beating the snot out of our kids – educationally while we are literally being ignorant about the importance of measuring academic achievement.

    don’t like SOLs – or Common Core -fine – go be willfully ignorant and consign your kids to losing out to Asians and other better educated.

  5. re: ” But SOLs aren’t designed to maximize the educational experience of above-average students. They’re geared to achieving minimal standards for at-risk students and low achievers. Basically, it’s a leveling mechanism — something that those who inveigh against “privilege” in our society should love, I would think.”

    How about it’s a mechanism to reduce entitlement costs?

    over and over – I hear one side talking about the education “experience” for their kids – the desired soup-to-nuts experience… which is millions of dollars over and above what the Feds and State actually mandate.

    and what is that great gobs of additional discretionary money actually spent on? Head Start, title 1 , Vocational Certifications ?

    nope. it’ spent on non-core academic “experience” things for the “better than average” kids… for the most part .. with precious little emphasis on getting the other kids to the point where they can graduate – get a job -be a taxpayer and not require entitlements.

    One school system in Va – takes it’s job seriously to educate all kids to an acceptable academic level – sufficient for them to compete well for College but also to be job-ready if not going to college – and that is Fairfax.

    there may be others – but a significant number are basically bifurcated – with a “college prep” track and a ” sorry about that -no job training for you -track”

    this is exactly why we rank 25th in the world. It’s not our college-bound – it’s the monumental waste of non-college – resources… that in Europe and Japan are called “Technical Education” and are significantly rigorous that most Technical Track students in Europe and Japan are better qualified – academically than our college-bound kids.

    and what do we do ? we blame SOLS and Common Core.

  6. what’s funny is this. Without the SOLS you’d not even know about bad schools and bad teachers…

    there would be – no transparency….or accountability…

    sorta what the proponents of charter/choice schools want – no transparency/accountability…

    so this is the current state of the anti-testing crowd…

    • “Without the SOLS you’d not even know about bad schools and bad teachers…”

      HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHA. Do you actually think this is true? People have been complaining about bad schools and teachers since forever using whatever metrics are at hand or in vogue at the moment. I went to school before the advent of SOLs and EVERYONE knew which schools in my city were good and which were bad.

  7. re” whatever metrics” – such as….. name some… and how they are confirmable beyond just being an arbitrary assessment?

    I sent to school before SOLs also and as a military brat – my education was messed up because when we moved – the next school had no idea of what I had learned and had not but even then it would not matter because the curriculum at the new school would be different from the prior one.

    I took College Prep in High School and got good grades. When I applied for college – they had me do an entrance assessment – and they then told me that I not only was not College-ready – I needed remediation help before they would accept me. All along in school I got GOOD grades.. thinking I was ready for college – because the schools said I was doing quite well and my parents believed them …

    today – when you hear of an economically-disadvantaged kid – who has a parent who can barely read on the 3rd grade level – at what point did that parent (and his parents) KNOW that he had received a really bad education?

    so without some kind of standardized way of measuring – just how would you know?

  8. I have a little exercise for folks:

    pretty good website – can find out all kinds of info about a school.

    now tell me where that info came from….

  9. LG
    There are very few things you and I will ever agree upon but without measurable and accountable and uniform tests of student’s knowledge, the schools will revert back to social promotions leaving many with their only skill as brick throwing through a store window.

    • Good LORD HCJ! isn’t this the second time we agreed though I cannot remember what the first was about.

      yes.. I am AGOG that we have people now days that are simply opposed to ANY kind of standardized testing and even more opposed to a standardized curriculum. It’s as if we don’t care what Europe and Japan are doing – and we purposely don’t want to know because – like other things like health care we believe we are unique on the planet and do not compare to other nations at all.

      • If you could find a curriculum being pushed that was designed by teachers and education researchers and had been field tested before being hoisted on states and localities I would be fully behind it. Especially if it could be constructed without appeasing know-nothings, moralists and neo-Confederates.

  10. that’s a bunch of bull. what do you think is done in the 25 other countries that do this and best us? Each has their own standard but it is can be equivalenced to PISA because of the common definitions of what proficiency is and is not.

    and let me give an example:

    go read that link and tell me that it’s something that teachers did not have a hand in. You can put any label on it you want – but it describes a performance capability… and it compares and contrasts basic, proficient and advanced.

    Common Core was started by the National Governors Association – it was a cooperative effort involving 50 states not a top-down dictate – and it emulates the PISA standards emulated in Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand and it conforms to the NAEP standards for proficiency – which in-turn match the PISA standards.

    the localities are not forced to adopt a particular standard in the first place. The NCLB law requires them to adopt A STANDARD of their choosing but use it consistently and report results for demographics. In fact, many states have pick miserably low standards but they meet the legal requirement.

    Common Core has been adopted by the Defense Department for their schools – worldwide – because those kids move frequently and need to have a common standard to be able to progress as they attend different schools.
    It makes perfect sense in the military and the 21st century.

    Common Core has been demonized by those who basically do not want ANY standards to start with – the Luddites… who believe we should not have standards at all.

    Listen to the Common Core opponents for what they DO support. Not a standard , none, nada.

    LOCAL standards. Imagine what our world would look like if locals designed interstate roads or environmental standards or auto standards or building codes or any of the standardized things that exist in the modern world.

    Imagine what Virginia would look like – if we dump SOLs and let each school system pick their own standards.

    I’m sorry – but this is ignorance on steroids. Standards are a necessary part of the 21st century – in virtually everything that touches our lives. We totally depend on them even as we play luddite games.

  11. As a professional educator for over thirty years, I have seen the transition from teachers teaching “what they know” and “what they like” (U.S. History) to teachers having a baseline curriculum to work through during a given school year. The good news about the SOL’s (U.S. History) is that they give teachers that baseline to work from. As a teacher you have to decide, relative to the clientele that appear in the desks each fall, whether you need to teach to the test or teach above and beyond. I have been fortunate over the past twenty years to be able to gauge the students in those desks and teach above and beyond the baseline because they were capable enough and interested enough to allow that instruction to occur. Many of my colleagues in other locales have not been as fortunate and therefore in order to survive and provide their students with an opportunity to succeed each year, they have to teach to the test. SOL’s also give taxpayers a modest return on their investment in public education. After all we live in data driven society and we, as educators, owe the public the opportunity to see that their tax dollars are being spent appropriately. Unfortunately, that same data driven world in which we live has frightened “the adults” in the education world to the point that they have placed so much emphasis on preparation for SOL’s that we have sacrificed Health and Physical Education in many localities. Instead of promoting the entire wellbeing of the student (mind and body), we have opted for the mind and obesity plagues our students. Life is a balancing act. Students, Parents, and Educators need to seek and find that balance between performance, accountability, and health (mental and physical). That balance cannot be imposed from “top down” Federal mandates, it must be allowed to simmer up from the “grassroots” in every locality in the Commonwealth. Constitutionally, Education is a state matter (Reserved Powers). Federal mandates, incentives (Common Core) are merely interference.

  12. wrk2 – thank you for providing an educator’s input. I agree with most of what you say. I can’t tell exactly if you are saying Common Core is a federal mandate, but to be clear – the Common Core Standards are not federal mandates.

  13. I also thank WRK3 and also have questions about his/her view of Common Core vs SOLs or some other standard.

    in other words – what is the proper role of standards and how should they be implemented – or not? I’d be curious to hear that view.

    also – once more – most school systems in Va – appropriate millions of dollars of local spending – over and above what the State requires for SOQ/SOLs and yet what is it spent on – and what is it not spent on?

    more to the point – pre-school, universal K, Title 1 and Vocation Training… do we spend on these things or not and how much relative to the SOQ/SOLS?

  14. We need some standard to measure the effectiveness of the money we spend on public education and also to identify strengths and weaknesses. I sure don’t want educational success to mean “how much more money can we give the Schools,” which, in many cases, means “I want taxpayers to subsidize what I want for my children.”

    I’ve long toyed with measuring schools (public and private), in part, by the number of graduates who need remedial courses in post-HS education. And, yes, we need education that goes beyond what a state tests, including (Larry) training for those who don’t pursue a college degree.

    • TMT and I appear to agree more than we disagree on this along with Hill City Jim!

      and TMT wants to be able to assess non-public competitors and I do too.

      our first priority should be to graduate as many kids as we can that will be capable of getting a job, providing for themselves and their families, pay taxes – and not need entitlements.

      Instead – our schools have been essentially co-opted for the college-bound by parents who (justifiably) want the best for their kids – but they want taxpayers to pay for it – even if it means other kids don’t get the bare minimum they need to become employable.

      taxpayer-funded education should never be about giving a kid the best of all worlds – if in doing that it means denying other kids a basic education that equips them to be employable. Especially when the kids that get all the benefits actually end up paying for the entitlements of the kids who were shortchanged.

      we want to blame parents and blame teachers for the kids that don’t make it. I’d be okay with that if we take the same approach for alternative schools funded by vouchers and charter schools.

      Make it the same – across the board.

      If ALEC and the Koch Brothers or Fordham or Heritage or CATO want to pilot competitive school options – I’m all for it – as long as we measure.

      I’m quite convinced that the non-public schools that focus primarily on core academic and let parents be responsible for the extras are going to excel because they’re going to do what the public schools won’t do – and that is prioritize core academic and vocation training..

      virtually every school in Va spends millions of dollars over and above what the state mandates – but virtually none of them provide a transparent accounting of what that money is spent for and truth be known – it’s more often than not, NOT for pre-k, core academic or vocational training – it’s instead for the extras for the college bound.

      • Larry, even in highly educated Fairfax County, parents show up at budget hearing and make the statement “But it’s for the children.” And most don’t want any measurement beyond are they happy that all their wishes for their own children are satisfied. Disgusting!

  15. Education is a local and state matter. No, Common Core is not a Federal program, but Federal interference in public education does more to complicate than promote quality. Virginia’s SOQ’s have never been fully funded and it is past time for citizens of the Commonwealth to demand that the General Assembly focus on one of its primary functions, educating (K-12) the students of the Commonwealth. With the exception of public safety, public education is the most important function that state and local governments have.

    • The K-12 funding problem in Virginia is Deadbeat Virginia doesn’t tax itself enough to make a fair contribution to operating their schools. The LCI must be amended to require a sufficient minimum local tax contribution as a condition of receiving state aid. And as the LCI is adjusted to consider lower property values in many parts of Virginia, it should also be adjusted to account for the much higher cost of living in NoVA.

      What is the biggest barrier to achieving these goals? IMO, the dip-sh*# liberal representatives from NoVA who always surrender to their innate desire to spend money. A good example is Senator Saslaw who wants to increase state spending on K-12? Unless the LCI is changed, Saslaw deserves to be drawn and quartered.

  16. I appreciate you answering.. but do have questions

    I have always found the SOQ funding argument a bit … odd because the money to fund them will come from SAME taxpayers whether it is through the state or through local – and the local always have the ability to make up whatever the state does not fund but it’s the same taxpayers .. they still pay why is that a real argument?

    Are we opposed to the state setting SOQ standards in the first place and would prefer than they not have those standards and just let the localities decide ?

    Most schools fund millions of dollars over and above what the state requires and what do they spend it on? Some of it goes to pay for things the SOQs don’t pay for but in general we do not know because most schools do not account for how local funding is spent anyhow – so we don’t know what the chosen priorities are – and are not.

    For instance, the FEds are the ones who fund TITLE 1 and special ed… how many localities would fund it if the Feds did not? Do localities fund more Title 1 is they have more need than the Feds provide for?

    similarly – how do we fund pre-K or universal K or vocation ed at the local level?

    Have to ask -are you opposed to standardized testing – in general? no matter whether it is SOL or Common Core? just opposed to standards?


    • Fairfax County taxpayers have always supplemented Title I and the complementary state program and to the point where parents in wealthier areas are rebelling against class sizes in elementary schools that are above 30.

      • TMT – can you do me a favor and go find out how many elementary teachers there are in Fairfax and how many elementary kids there are…and do the division and let me know what you get.

        I’ve heard similar numbers but when I ask for the two numbers they’re nowhere to be found…

        similarly – it was reported that high school classes had 30+ ratios but then in a recently released efficiency report – the numbers were provided and when you do the division you end up with theoretical class sizes in the 15 range.

        Also – can you point me to the page in the Fairfax School budge where it shows local money for Title 1?


  17. so perhaps Jim should change the title to : “The Parental and Teaching backlash to Academic Standards and Testing” imposed by top-down Govt, eh?

  18. this is another one of those issues where there is opposition to the status quo -implication of a govt people do not want involved..

    and no specifics about what to do instead ..

    we see it in health care, immigration , and education these days.

    these folks know what they don’t like – but hearing what they’d do instead is short on details – and often just ignores realities .. like how we deal with the 21st century – in terms of our global competitors who very much do believe in standards and testing.

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