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March 6, 1999
Tech professor criticizes use of SOLs / Says
test shouldn't control graduation, accreditation.
BY JON POPE
Times-Dispatch Staff Writer
Dr. Lawrence H. Cross can't believe the massive changes he's seeing
in the state's public education arena. Standardized tests to determine
whether a student will receive a high school diploma? Ludicrous,
Cross said. Standardized tests to determine whether schools are
doing their jobs correctly? Ridiculous, Cross said. Standardized
tests being used as a way to raise academic standards? Absurd, Cross
Cross, a professor of educational research and measurement at Virginia
Tech, gave the state's new standardized tests, the Standards of
Learning, a verbal thrashing yesterday. He made his comments during
a small group session of the Virginia Educational Research Association's
annual conference, which was held in Chesterfield County. About
35 educational researchers attended the conference. The association
is a nonprofit group with about 100 members whose mission is to
serve the research and evaluation needs of professional educators
in Virginia. Cross said the SOL tests are no better and no worse
than any other standardized tests.
"It's not the test that's the bad guy, it's the use to which
it's being put." His criticism comes at a time when educators,
students and parents apparently are trying to make sense of the
new tests, which are based on a tougher curriculum approved by the
state Board of Education in 1995.
One of the hot-button issues of the SOLs revolves around the notion
that student performance on the tests eventually will determine
whether a school receives accreditation from the state. Beginning
in the 2006-07 school year, 70 percent of a school's students must
pass the tests for the school to remain accredited.
Based on the results of last spring's first round of SOL tests,
only 2.2 percent of the state's public schools would meet Virginia's
new accreditation requirements. That statistic, Cross said, has
either made Virginia's public school system the laughing stock of
the nation or the recipient of everyone's sympathy.
He said it's naive to think that any one item can be used to measure
the quality of an educational program. The SOL tests also eventually
will be used to determine whether students qualify for a high school
diploma. Starting with the graduating class of 2004, students must
pass at least six of 11 end-of-course exams to earn their diplomas.
Such a setup is based on the misconception that all children can
learn challenging concepts, Cross said. That ideal, while inaccurate,
is politically correct and popular among conservatives and liberals
alike, he said, which explains the general lack of public criticism
of the SOLs.
While Cross' assessment seemed to be accepted by most in attendance
at the conference, not everyone agreed with him.
"If the kids are failing, then it's time
to change the way we teach," said Dr. Mary L. Radnofsky, president
of The Socrates Institute, a nonprofit educational corporation.
The most important aspect of the SOL debate at this point isn't
you agree or disagree with the state's new philosophy on education,
"Even if you hate the SOLs, this has
given us an incredible opportunity to talk about education,"
© 1999, Richmond Newspapers Inc.
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