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The Emperor’s New Clothes and the Virginia SOL Tests

My son is scheduled to take two state-mandated, standardized tests this month. He is in fourth grade. This would be the 11th and 12th times he is supposed to take this type of test, thanks to the addition of Virginia’s Growth Assessments in 2021.

I have been an educator for nearly 20 years and have worked with teachers in more than 38 states. I don’t know a single educator who believes standardized testing has enduring value for individual students or for public education as a whole. Like the servants and subjects in Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless tale about honesty and compliance, educators know the Emperor is naked, but most feel they do not have a choice about the process or how the results are used.

But I am not writing this as an educator. I am writing this as a mom.

As a mom, I am well aware of my son’s academic progress. His teacher keeps me informed about his strengths and areas of challenge. She is knowledgeable about Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOLs) and my son’s mastery of those standards. He learns in a supportive, welcoming, warm, and safe environment that encourages not only academic success, but also helps him manage his time, stay organized, cope with anxiety, collaborate in a group, and handle consequences when he does not meet expectations. No test score could give me the information I really want to know about his overall school experience.

My son will not be taking any SOL tests this month. He has never taken an SOL test.

We chose to opt him out of testing. The process was simple. We wrote an email stating our preference and sent it to the school testing coordinator, who is responsible for informing the classroom teacher. They accepted our decision, explained the consequences—an unexcused absence if he does not come to school or he spends the test time in the library reading until his classmates are finished—and encouraged us to contact them with any questions we may have.

The teacher and school officials have been gracious and supportive. My son is learning more effectively because the measure of his success as a fourth grader does not come down to a single score on a test given at a certain point in time.

I can recall taking only one group-administered standardized test in my K-12 experience. It was the SAT. I chose to take the test and picked the date, time, and place. I understood how the results would benefit me directly. I was 17 years old.

In her book So Each May Soar, Carol Ann Tomlinson questioned the true cost of standardized testing compared its value in the last 20 years. She pointed out, “Most countries that outperform the United States on standardized measures test their students three times during an entire school career.” By contrast, an American student, on average, will take 112 mandated standardized tests between pre-K and high school graduation.

My son is 10 years old. He will probably be scheduled to take 100 more standardized tests before graduating from high school. The emperor is naked. Our family is willing to say it. Is yours?


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