Take a moment to consider the following scenario: A Virginia student begins fifth grade this month at a first-grade reading level. By the end of the school year in June, she has been brought up to a fourth grade reading level thanks to the hard work she and her teacher put in all year. Now, how would you rate the success of this student and her teacher? I’d call the teacher a rock star and be proud of the student’s effort.
Under Virginia’s current testing structure — the Standards of Learning — both teacher and student would be deemed a failure.
These high-stakes, end-of-year multiple-choice tests are not working for our students, parents, teachers, or our schools, and it’s time for real reform. Our education system should demand rigor and accountability, but in a way that encourages accomplishment, commends students for their successes, focuses on skills rather than rote memorization, and recognizes the teachers who help them get there as the assets they are to strengthening Virginia’s future.
As a candidate for Virginia governor, I am committed to working with members of both parties to find innovative, practical solutions to reform the Standards of Learning and improve education in the Commonwealth.
Education is always an investment, never an expense, and educating our children is the key to strengthening our economy and ensuring the next generation of Virginians have more opportunities to succeed.
Virginia parents know that children prefer different methods of learning, and teachers have their own styles. Giving flexibility in the way we are educating our children and assessing teacher performance are not mutually exclusive goals. By shifting our focus to fair, multi-dimensional means of assessment, we can challenge our students to be able to compete in a global economy while reforming the current necessity of drilling students to pass the SOLs.
My education plan proposes four key areas of improvement to the SOLs: reward meaningful progress versus only measuring simplistic grade-level requirements, permit more flexible test formats, incorporate more essay and short answer sections, and form a Blue Ribbon Commission to evaluate the content and format of the tests.
If a school district wants to break up the tests or administer tests differently to children with different learning styles, they should have the flexibility to do so. I want to encourage our teachers and students to succeed, not box them into strict guidelines that make it harder for us to judge their true progress.
We need to make sure the SOLs are not only asking the right questions but using the best format so we can truly see whether a student has the correct understanding of the critical concepts that will prepare them beyond elementary and high school. This is why I have proposed a Blue Ribbon Commission comprising teachers, parents, administrators and education experts to continuously evaluate the SOLs.
I have also proposed including more short answer and essay questions in these exams. Giving students the opportunity to demonstrate all of their knowledge allows us to better determine what they know, and moves teachers away from having to “teach to the test” and back toward teaching the most important concepts.
Finally, as governor I will make responsible budget decisions that allow our teachers to focus on teaching our kids, and protect funding streams that our communities depend on to support local education.
I am glad that my opponent has agreed that our SOLs need changing. But by proposing a massive tax break for the wealthiest Virginians and offering no plan to pay for it, his proposals could reduce funding that localities depend on for schools. He would also divert critical funding from our public school system to go to private schools. This all at a time where Virginia’s teacher pay, compared to local prevailing wages, ranks dead last in the nation.
As governor, I will protect and improve our education system. It’s critical to our families and to our ability to compete and win in a global economy.
Terry McAuliffe is the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor.