SOL Testing: Not Enough or Too Much?

Some compelling observations about high school students and SOL retests from Regina Meredith and the counseling team at Salem High School.

Among the most important events in a child’s life are the first day of kindergarten and high school graduation. For some of our students who are working to earn a standard diploma, attending high school graduation might never happen.  Not because they haven’t met course requirements, not because they aren’t ready for the world, but because they have failed to pass a required multiple choice SOL test.  

​As school counselors we must keep track of what SOLs are needed to earn a diploma. During the 2013-14 school year, we faced an uphill task to help 16 of our seniors work to pass those last needed SOLs.  Thankfully, nearly all students were successful, but one day we sat down to look at the number of times these students had taken a SOL test in four years of high school, and the results were astounding! 

“Michelle” began her senior year still needing to pass a  math SOL.  While successfully completing all other high school requirements, June came and went and she was not part of graduation.  During four years of high school, she took 29 SOL and/or substitute tests.  “Paul” was fortunate and did graduate.  This celebratory occasion came after taking a total of 33 SOL/substitute tests. And “Bryan”?  Well, he celebrated graduation as well but only after taking 22 SOL/substitute tests.

These three students have taken a total of 84 SOLs/substitute tests while in high school.  Each one only needed six for a standard diploma which is a total of 18.  Let’s look at this from a different perspective.  Let’s say that for each test beyond the six required these students did a minimum of three hours of remediation.  They each spend a minimum of two hours on the test itself.  This means that these three students have spent a minimum of 330 hours related to SOL testing which translates to a loss of about 51 days of classroom instruction.  Sadly, these are only three instances and we are talking about minimums.  There were still other students who tested as many or more times as these three students.

We all believe in accountability.  We have to ask ourselves this question:  What kind of accountability are we showing  when we test, retest, and then test again some students 30 plus times?  Students appear for testing, waiting compliantly, and then say, “I am so tired of taking this test!”  And yet once again they test.  We are proud of their continued effort, but sadly this time could be better spent cultivating their strengths rather than excessively assessing an area of weakness. It is their strengths, after all, that will enable them to gain meaningful employment.

I try to visualize these students as adults with their own children.  They come to their child’s parent teacher conference and say, “Yes, I remember when I was in high school, I just never could pass those tests” or “I hated high school.  All I ever did was take tests!”  We want our young people to leave high school prepared for the next level whether that is college, the work force, or the military.  Is that what the current system of assessment is really doing?