Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Technology in Education- Part1

The SOLs and Technology

The Standards of Learning test, or SOLs, were created to address the needs of No Child Left Behind. I am not a fan. In some ways it has helped a few students. In other ways, it has created a test taking mentality among teachers and students that has probably hurt more students than anything else. It has also had a negative impact on instructional technology.

Part of my problem is that SOLs are standards based tests, which means that this is the minimum that each child is expected to know for each level tested.

My son’s SOL scores came back the other day from last year’s 3rd grade test. He did great. He had a perfect score in Social Studies and History. The others areas he missed one or two questions in each area. I was glad he did well, but I couldn’t help but think what he lost in the exchange for good SOL scores. He is in a gifted cluster class. Great- so he did not completely master all the SOLs in a gifted cluster class! There is no evidence of his knowledge advancing beyond the minimum for his grade level.

If a student’s grades are dictated by a curriculum built around standards, which are the minimum that a student should know, how can there be any evidence of exceptional work? The SOLs have helped some students by creating a more uniform curriculum, but not all of them. Material must be covered and reviewed. Test taking skills must be drilled. Where does that time come from? Extended learning activities?

At my son’s school last year, after the SOL test was over, they had movies every day and treats, but no learning. I know this because he was ecstatic over the party atmosphere and told me every day for a month leading up to the 2 week long event. They watched movies for entertainment that were somehow loosely tied to SOL standards. For example, they saw Ice Age: The Meltdown which can be associated with what SOL? A creative person might be able to make some sort of connection. Oh yes, Earth changes Science 3.8. The part that bothers me most is that this is a common practice. It happens at many other schools. When the entire curriculum is built around SOL tests and the tests are finished, what is a teacher supposed to do? Maybe I am missing something.

I am certain that the future will be created by individuals who have mastered tools that we haven't invented yet. They will need to understand how to use the tools of today first. The future will not be made by adults who memorized in third grade the slash the trash technique to test taking. This is hard for many people in education to hear because in most cases their jobs are tied to the performance of their students on these tests. They want to address SOLs and don't have time for technology. What teachers often miss is that technology can prepare the students better for the SOLs than any other way, and then take them far beyond that multiple choice fixation.

All of this leads me to why technology has suffered from the impact of SOLs. Technology is an afterthought. SOLs are what teachers are worried about. The funny thing is that there are technology SOLs, but the students are not tested on them. When SOLs first came out, students were tested in technology, and teachers worked hard to make sure students knew the material. That was quite a few years ago.

Now, there is no push to learn the new technology because that takes time away from perfecting core area SOL instruction and increasing student performance by the smallest increments. The old tools are comfortable and ready to go. There is no down time while you are figuring out how to turn it on or make it work, and best of all, technology SOLs are not tested.

But, that is just the way I see things…

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