Here we are, yet again, at the end of the school year. For most of us, this is a busy time. The days are longer, the weather is warmer without having reached the uncomfortable stickiness of summer, and spring fever has struck. The kids, at least mine, have been crabby since Spring Break –remember that? Waaay back in early April?!
Our school year routines are falling apart and getting them to study becomes more difficult by the day. The pool is open (well on the weekends at any rate), picnics abound and outdoor activities resume. For many kids, swim team practice has begun and in our case, training for Master Yi-Yi’s summer job as a camp counselor is underway. Everything screams of summer. And in the midst of all this, most kids in third grade and above will be subjected to tests that supposedly epitomize their mastery (or not) in a variety of subjects…the infamous SOL tests.
I primarily have a “hate” relationship with the SOLs, even though they have become less stressful in our household. Master Yi-Yi and Little H can generally get a passing score with very little extra studying, albeit they still have to complete many tedious packets. However, many kids get way too stressed. Neither one of mine cares about getting a perfect or advanced score as long as they pass, and that’s mostly so they don’t have to take their final exams. Remember those from middle and high school? In my day, you could only be exempt in the final semester of senior year. Little H cares so little about her actual score that even though she had the opportunity to find out how she did, she told her teachers she only cared to know if she passed, so I guess we wait for report cards to see what she got.
However…Monkey Boy struggles mightily with the SOLs and is more likely to tie his intelligence to his score. And since he typically fails, this can be problematic with his self-esteem…to say the least! It’s more than the actual material. These tests are long and sometimes complicated and his focus, like many kids his age, wanes long before he reaches the last question. At least Monkey Boy’s school emphasizes that a child’s intelligence is not measured by the test only, and the SOL is only one part of illustrating what they’ve learned. But the school’s reputation is still built on the percentage of kids who pass reading and math.
I can’t even see the purpose of the test, especially in elementary school. It’s not used to retain them, it’s not used to find weaknesses and work on them, and it’s not used to push the kids who do well ahead. The only use I see is to make kids who do well feel good, and the ones who don’t, feel dumb. Some kids are great test takers and some aren’t. Some can get perfect scores without studying and some have to work really hard to get the bare minimum. I read an article that stated in the lower grades, the SOLs are used for diagnostic purposes. It’s actually the first time, I’ve heard the tests described as such. And in the next sentence, the article says they are used for accreditation. To me, it can’t be both. If it’s simply a diagnostic tool, then it shouldn’t be used to test mastery of a subject or measure a teacher’s performance.
For kids who struggle, the SOLs can be detrimental to their learning. First, they are forced to learn and be tested on material that they are not cognitively ready for. I think math is the worst as they fly through concepts leaving little room for the repetitive practice that leads to mastery. You can read about that in my previous post. It’s pretty clear to them which kids pass and which don’t, so it’s a concrete example, in their minds, that they aren’t as smart. Therefore, many give up because they know that no matter how hard they try, they will always be behind. As I mentioned before, Monkey Boy is a prime example. I’m sure this isn’t true for every child, but I know Monkey Boy isn’t the only one. He told me recently that he knows he’s gotten better at reading because the benchmark tests say so, not because he actually finds it easier. So, he thought he might pass the SOL. I wish he understood how far he’s come this year beyond a test score.
Ultimately, since we have no choice, I encourage my kids just to try their best. And I must admit, I really don’t care if Monkey Boy passes these tests or not. I’ve seen major improvement in him this year, and that’s good enough for me. And so, we struggle with balancing the excitement of summer and the drudgery of testing, knowing that soon enough it’ll be nothing but relaxing and tons of fun in Florida!
Oh? You don’t know about my plans to load all three kids and my mom in the van and drive to Florida this summer? Stay tuned, I’m sure the road trip and the Disney visit will make for an entertaining blog post—if I live through it!