Editorial: This education reform idea is nuts

Jun. 07, 2013 @ 08:01 AM

Count us among those who think efforts to improve education are far too reliant on high-stakes tests.

The state of Virginia accidentally got it right years ago when it named that state’s high-stakes tests the Standards of Learning, or SOLs. (The humorlessness of the state’s leaders is evidenced by the fact that they routinely use the SOL initials and yet no one ever suggested changing the name.)

When so much emphasis is placed on tests, everything that happens in the classroom that isn’t geared toward the test decreases in importance. That there is too much testing now isn’t a partisan stance -- public school teachers have been saying it, and now Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has said it, citing the fact that a total of 194 tests were given this year to students in fourth through 12th grades. The real issue now is how to shift the emphasis away from so much testing.

Bafflingly, one idea proposed this week in a column by Christopher Hill, the director of the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, would further decrease the importance of what happens in the classroom. Hill was suggesting ways to correct the overreliance on high-stakes tests, but among them was the idea that “students who are less motivated and do not participate by handing in homework or putting effort in class work” should still be allowed to be promoted to the next grade if they pass a proficiency test.

That makes utterly no sense.

What is school for if you can fail to turn in homework or participate in class but still pass all your classes?

The classroom experience teaches or reinforces not just the knowledge of the academic subjects but social behaviors the students will need to be successful adults – among other things, a little discipline, the importance of meeting deadlines, the consequences of failing to follow instructions or complete assignments, and social interaction.

You can argue against that, but to go as far as Hill seems to is as much as saying that we should let all of the “unmotivated” students take their classes over the Internet, with no expectations of homework or participation, only a high-stakes test at the end, which was the thing Hill said he wanted to reduce.

Perhaps we misunderstood his point. Next time he should show his work.