The new common core state standards have educators all a buzz, in 45 states at least. In Virginia, one of the “hold-out” states, the buzz has been for years, the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. I have not perused the common core to speak with confidence on their potential (or potential downfall), however, I have seen enough of the VA SOL assessments over the years.
I would call the SOL assessments a necessary evil. I also called homework the same. The premise behind the SOLs was to ensure teachers throughout the state were teaching the same topics that the State felt was necessary to learn withing the specific curriculum. I have to say, big picture, this makes sense. In addition, the idea was also to provide a pacing blueprint to aid not only the teacher, but also the student.
I get it. As a teacher in SW VA, I should be teaching the same information to my students as one in Northern VA. Also, should one of my students transfer to NOVA, they should be within a few weeks of pacing to not lose too much information.
What I don’t understand is why teachers are seemingly taking the easy way out and using the SOL, or potentially the Common Core as the patsy. In my opinion, teachers that argue the standards limit their creativity are just not interested in thinking outside the box. Also, if the standards limit your teaching, what were you teaching in the first place?
When I moved from Michigan to Virginia, I was handed the list of the SOLs, the pacing guide and some resources. After looking over the pacing guide, it was easy for me to see that it was not far from what I was used to, and the SOLs were very low on the scale of what I taught in my class as it was. From that time on, I never worried about the SOLs nor did I take the easy way out and let them dictate how and what I taught. In fact, one principal asked all teachers to list in the board all SOLs as you covered them. Early on, my students were able to list the vast majority of the standards as we covered the material. In fact, they often complained that we were learning more.
I challenge teachers to look at the SOLs and the Common Core as a mere road map to what should be covered in your class as the bare minimum. I feel that it should not be all that you teach. If you blend the minimum standards into what you are already covering with critical thinking and student engagement, it will not be necessary to worry about the minimum competency testing.
Challenge yourself as you challenge your students. Don’t take the easy way out.