Laugh or cry

—Because I want to share the voices in my head with others

Footnotes, italics, scare quotes and a few minor deletions by me . . .

Original Article By Tyler Whitley
Published: June 20, 2009

Bowing to pressure, the state superintendent of public instruction has abandoned her proposal to end the third-grade history and social studies Standards of Learning test.

The proposal drew a bipartisan outcry from legislators and objections from parents, educational groups and textbook publishers. And after all, who should know better than these experts in education and parties without any financial interest in continued testing? Does the state superintendent of public instruction think she was put in place to decide what is best for students? Of course not, that’s what textbook publishers are for.

Superintendent Patricia I. Wright said she made the proposal to save about $380,000 a year and because she thought third-graders were being tested too much.

“Poppycock” sneered Ms. Stanflowski, a textbook lobbyist. ” Every study we’ve paid someone to do for us proves exactly what we’ve always said. It is impossible to give expensive multiple choice tests too early, or too often.”

But superintendent Wright said yesterday that she will recommend, at the State Board of Education meeting next Saturday, proceeding with the test and that the board approve a timeline for weaving history-related passages into the elementary reading tests next year after revisions of the reading standards.

“I understand the concerns of the educators, legislators and others who disagreed,” she said. “I had not realized just how broken our system was. Parents are this brainwashed, really? Does anyone know what I could make consulting?”

Lynda Tran, a spokeswoman for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, described the discussion about the SOLs as “healthy.”

Tom Woodward, a spokesman for reality, described the discussion as “vomitous1.”

The discussion sends a signal that “we can expect as a state to continue to lead the way on education achievement,” Tran said. “Because testing equals achievement. It’s not because we’ve totally lost sight of what education is and have fallen to measuring poorly, but often, to satisfy petty bullies who don’t know a damned thing about education.”

Wright’s action was praised by Del. H. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, the House of Delegates majority leader, who joined many of his colleagues in opposition to Wright’s proposal.

“The bottom line is the history tests are a building block to understand how the government and our society works,” he said. “The children need to start at an early age. I am now legislating for in vitro testing. Think of all the things you memorized in 3rd grade that resulted in my election? You think I want to mess up that system?

Griffith also said taking the history and social studies test demonstrates how well a third-grader can read. Griffith then headed back to teaching elementary school and working nights teaching literacy to teachers as he has done for 30 plus years2.

The questions on the test range from geography to architecture to history.

African-American legislators noted that the third-grade test emphasizes African-American heroes, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson. If the test were eliminated, the first exposure students would have to African-American history would be slavery in the fourth-grade curriculum, they said.

At this point a teacher mentioned that she would still teach about African-American heroes and didn’t need the state test, in fact she would have “more freedom to expand and explore the topic with her students.” The unnamed woman was quickly ejected from this meeting as she had no business being there and was clearly out of touch with reality.

1 As in, inducing vomit or the taste of bile into one’s mouth.

2 Ed. Sorry it turns out Griffith is an attorney with no early childhood literacy experience. I don’t know how we got that so wrong.

Comments on this post

  1. Mike H said on June 24, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    When I first heard about this, I thought, awesome! My daughter had just taken the test and I figured, not having the SOL would be a good thing. I’m not a testing fan (as it’s usually done) nor do I like the SOL tests (I like the SOL content). But then, I got my new job, and was involved in the statewide discussion about dropping the test. Their fears made me change my mind.

    First, there is 4 years (K-3) of social studies content (US History, VA history, world history, government, and economics) and accountability that can be lost. The suggested change for making it a reading test wouldn’t work either since the reading test would have to be very long to cover the material, and I use the word “cover” carefully, as then, the social studies content would merely be a paragraph reading where the students wouldn’t get any context or deeper understanding of the content. In fact, they’d probably think it was fiction.

    Since teachers would still have to give SOLs in 3rd grade, the thought was that the little social studies that is currently taught in K-3 would even become smaller as teachers turned their focus on the SOL material. On average, social studies is probably taught 1 hour a week. My daughter would go weeks sometimes without any social studies.

    Furthermore, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade don’t cover the material in-depth enough as is argued to make up the difference of losing the K-3 focus and the assessment in 3rd grade.

    Here is some more of the arguments (it’s long, so thankfully, web pages are endless):
    Possible Responses:
    This will free teachers to make social studies more enjoyable and less rote teaching to a test
    -if elimination of testing will make studies more meaningful and enjoyable then why not eliminate all tests?
    -meaningful standards that are worth teaching are worth testing
    -rote teaching is not a unique challenge for social studies, it’s an ongoing struggle we address through professional development
    -indications from other states suggest that elimination of the test will result in reduced resources for this purpose making the situation worse

    Social studies can be taught through language arts
    -it already is and will continue to be
    -most schools already split time for instruction in social studies and science to allow for additional time in language arts and math
    -this action will do nothing to increase the focus social studies concepts receive in language arts lessons
    -there are skills and knowledge that are unique to the disciplines of social studies that go far beyond basic reading skills

    The elimination of the test does not equal elimination of social studies instruction
    -the elimination of accountability for teaching the standards has resulted in decreased emphasis on social studies in every state where testing is absent
    -states without testing in social studies report a 50% decrease in instructional time allocated for social studies
    -vendors will reduce development and production of social studies materials for schools to purchase as principals move resources to support tested content areas (look at the materials developed recently by Five Ponds Press for VA’s K-3 standards as an example of what the standards and testing create a market for)
    -our professional teachers will still teach social studies skills and concepts with or without a test, however all the evidence we see from across the nation suggests that administrators under pressure to make AYP will alter the teaching environment to make a continuation of the current emphasis social studies is given much less likely

    There is too much testing and too much stress associated with testing
    -there is too much low level, multiple choice testing; if this decision were being made to pave the way for more challenging assessments that measure critical reading and reasoning through writing that would lead to a different and much needed conversation…
    -if this is a priority of the Board, why did we not have this to consider when we were working to revise the soc. studies standards last year? We could have reconfigured the standards to allow the assessments to be condensed to meet the Boards aims in this area
    -taxpayers have a right to expect accountability from our schools and we support maintaining tough standards and measurement
    -the cause of the stress associated with testing is the reaction of adults to the tests. When we are calm and confident in our students’ preparation it creates an atmosphere of calm and confidence in our students

    We need to save money
    -yes, but this cut will have a disproportionate impact on the overall social studies program.

    Those who have not yet contacted the Board must do so within the next 24 hours, if we are to make a difference. Please remember to copy me in your correspondence. Below is the contact information:

    In a perfect world, the fictitious teacher at the end would have more time to teach the content with more flexibility, but in reality, they won’t instead, focusing on SOL tested material. Furthermore, most K-5 teachers don’t have a social studies background, so they rely on the SOL Content and specifically created content for their lessons.

    This does not mean I want a K, 1, and 2nd grade SOL. But, I’d probably be right in thinking if they did teach that, more social studies would be taught.

  2. Tom said on June 24, 2009 at 4:23 pm


    I think a lot of the statements are true (some are just sickening quotes*) but they are predicated on a completely broken system. Maybe that’s what we’re dealing with but that makes the resistance to any sort of change even worse.

    Somehow we managed to teach pre-SOLs and even covered some content. We’ve now created SOLs and other BS state tests which create the illusion of accountability and accurate data. Yet when enough people don’t pass a test, it’s taken back and reformulated, numbers are massaged, people are placated. There are hundreds of ways to play games and tilt numbers. It’s a joke. It’s a Texas Miracle! And we still don’t really have a good idea what kids know or what their skills are.

    So, yeah, keep on testing 3rd graders who are young enough developmentally to produce really erratic results. Keep on perpetuating the idea that these tests are what matters and all that keeps teachers from mindlessly teaching garbage to all our children. Keep up coming up with ways to cram memorization into lunch or breakfast time at school. Keep on keeping on.

    *meaningful standards that are worth teaching are worth testing (for instance makes me want to vomit)

    *taxpayers have a right to expect accountability from our schools and we support maintaining tough standards and measurement (super- how about designing a decent measurement tool? How about a rationale and educated approach to accountability?)

  3. Mike H said on June 24, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    I agree, I think the best quotation in there is, “if elimination of testing will make studies more meaningful and enjoyable then why not eliminate all tests?”

    Because the system is what it is, you have to have the 3rd grade SOL. The only way getting rid of the 3rd grade SOL will work, is to get rid of them all.

    It’s similar to how I feel about term limits. I believe in Term Limits, but I don’t think it would be a good idea for Virginia to be the only state to mandate this on her members of Congress. It just weakens us.

    I didn’t like the meaningful standards worth testing quotation either, but again, if we’re stuck with the dumb things, then…

    I’d much rather have a system where we have the SOLs, but then each county provides a way to ensure that it’s tested. In fact, I’d rather have a VGLA system done on the teachers, where they keep a portfolio of what they taught and how they taught it. This would ensure all of the content being taught (I hate the idea of a history teacher spending 12 weeks on the Battle of Gettysburg) and also would ensure that teachers didn’t just lecture their way through the content. That, to me, would be a better system than testing students and then revamping numbers like you mentioned.

  4. Tom said on June 25, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    If we’re stuck with dumb things then . . . then what? Then keep doing dumb things for fear that we might lose face or seem less important? The majority of those concerns seem to be more about that, the fear of being seen as less important a subject than any real fear of missed learning. How many key skills are built in 3rd grade that aren’t repeated in virtually every grade after that? Surely we aren’t concerned with the petty fact memorization that goes on.

    I think that county by county testing would be an even bigger mess/joke than what we have. There’d be absolutely no point and it would cost tons more for each county to try to develop the tests etc. etc.

    Portfolios might make sense as an assessment of the teacher if done right but would take quite a lot of time for the teacher to develop and still would not get at what the students know. We’d be assessing the teacher’s portfolio making skills and still leaving the students out of it. For it to be an effective formative assessment you’d have to have admins or someone reviewing it regularly and offering suggestions but they’d need in class observations as well.

    I’d much rather see a project based model for students and more observation for teachers.

  5. Caroline Altmann said on March 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    My son is in 3rd grade and is becoming bored with the test prepping–ie. is starting to get into trouble. He loves learning otherwise. It’s really a pity.

    I’m not an expert in the SOL but I would like to see a lot less testing. Perhaps testing can be done selectively.

    My son took the 3rd grade SOL test at the beginning of the year and aced it. Seems too bad that he is doing all of these worksheet drills now for material he knew last year.

    Also in terms of African-American focus. The repeated exposure to MLK (and two other African-Americans) is too repetitive. It would be great if the teacher would feel comfortable to look at other materials. She doesn’t. Because it is not on the test.

    As for who benefits, look at the testing materials. They are produced by a large defense based company.