The SOL. It’s enough to strike fear in the hearts of my 11th grade students. Little do they know that they strike fear in my heart, too. Not that I have to pass them…or do I?
I’ve been doing some thinking on the matter. Do teachers have to pass the SOLs? A couple of years ago I discovered that I could look up information that tracked “my results”–how MY students have done in all the categories, how they measure up to other students, and even how my scores measured up against my colleagues’ (though I wasn’t supposed to see the feature, I later discovered, since I wasn’t supposed to see another teacher’s scores). I immediately felt insecure. How was I? Did administrators look at this information and judge me accordingly? Did they dismiss my high scores for my IB students (“Those test scores don’t really matter; they’d do well because they’re all smart.It doesn’t measure THEIR learning”)? Do they measure me by my “regular 11″ class?Am I considered an ineffectual teacher if a certain percentage doesn’t pass?
Of course all this is enough to make even the most confident of teachers a bit paranoid and even resentful of the hard work and sacrifice that goes into planning well executed lessons that actually impact thinking and learning. Yet, I can’t help wondering what my teaching would be like if it were not for the SOLs and everything that comes with it. How have SOLs impacted me as a teacher?
I am definitely more structured. I can hear my colleagues laughing at me right now–Michelle? Need more structure? (That’s because they think I’m obsessive about organization, pointing to the peaceful, zen-like expression on my face when my desks are all neat in their little areas with the chairs pushed in. Even my students laugh at how “Mrs. Alspaugh needs her desks in neat rows.”) But I mean in the organization of the actual lessons that I teach. I do not take as many wandering tours to unknown or perhaps unrelated areas in the middle of a unit. The tangents that I remember taking in my own IB/AP literature course–these have been eradicated almost entirely in favor of an ambitious schedule defined by set reading, writing and literary skills I want them to master. I can defend the material easily to my students with the defense that it will be on that ominous “SOL TEST” that they need in order to graduate. And nodding in recognition of this phrase/threat, they get down to business. This is in stark contrast to the way I passed through my own high school. I distinctly remember showing up one day and the teacher informing us that we weren’t doing the normal lessons because we had to take some state test that everyone else took. We all usually groaned at the banality of the test and took it. There was no stress or pressure, just some mild sense of inconvenience, like, “Let’s take this test and get on with it already so we can get back to more interesting things.”
But I wonder if this should be in the negative column:
The usage of justifying instructional material in terms of a tangible end seems incongruous with promoting an intrinsic love of learning. “You must learn this to get to this end” makes it very difficult to also promote as Dr. Seuss says, “These things are fun, and fun is good.” My students aren’t very curious intrinsically. They learn in a rote fashion, as if this “school” business could just as easily be a factory and they the child laborers, slaving to please the tyrannical adults who rule over them and pay them a penny for their day’s work.
The pressure also affects the pace of the course. I have to get to such and such material because it appears on the test and if I don’t teach it, they won’t know the answers. It’s a lot of pressure for a teacher–and leaves little room for those priceless “teachable moments” because I’m too busy looking at the mileage on the speedometer to check how much longer I have before we get to March when the SOL writing begins and then in May when the reading test begins.
So what are your thoughts? Are tests good things? Are they all bad? Will we look back on this time of No Child Left Behind and view it with a sense of nostalgic relief as we relate to new teachers, “Yeah, you think you have it bad. Back when I was a young teacher, they had this thing called No Child Left Behind.” You have no idea how easy you have it.”