The SOL Reflex

What do you think about Virginia’s Standards of Learning and the SOL tests?

This is a question I always ask of students in my classes – whether first-year courses designed to introduce the teaching profession, or field experiences with pre-service teachers just about to enter the field.

Inevitably, the answer has always been the same – an almost-exclusively negative response that condemns not only the Virginia SOL tests but all standardized tests, and even the concept of standardized tests. This criticism has been consistent since I began teaching, but it didn’t dawn on me until recently that it appears to be less a considered position, and more of a reflex.

This bothers me. It doesn’t bother me because of the position that students take – I personally have many problems with the current system and exams – but rather because it is an unexamined opinion, with no facts other than anecdotes to support it.

I’m not sure where the automaticity of the response comes from. Is it because this is the first generation of college students who have taken SOLs their entire academic lives? Is it because they’ve heard their K-12 teachers being openly critical of the process? Did parents speak out against the SOLs? In any of these cases, how did students come to adopt these positions without thinking through their own ideas? This question is especially relevant for my students, as they are going into teaching as a profession.

I think I’m going to begin with a different question, one that may lead students into a better understanding of why things are the way they are, and one which (hopefully) will allow them latitude in considering alternatives.

Should schools and teachers be responsible for providing a high-quality education to students? If so, how do we assess this quality in a fair and consistent way?