wasting bandwidth since 1999

Change Doesn’t Mean Progress

Our state education department has decided that all students in Virginia will take their SOL tests* online, and, of course, they haven’t bothered to actually pay for the equipment needed to do that.

In a recent discussion thread about the expansion of those online tests in our elementary schools, the writer of one post compared the mindset change required by teachers in moving from paper and pencil tests to online tests, to that required when shifting from overhead projectors to Smartboards.

It’s a accurate comparison, although in both cases, change doesn’t mean progress.

When it comes to the SOLs, a test, is a test, is a test and it really doesn’t matter the media used to administer it. Students are still filling it the blanks and learning little or nothing in the process.

Except that when students take their exams online, it also means schools will be committing every computer they can find to weeks of functioning as a dumb terminal rather than as powerful tools for communications and creativity. Plus the time required for setup and practice sessions.

Overall the push to have students take their SOLs online only benefits the state since results can be obtained faster and it will be cheaper (for them, not the local schools) to administer in the long run.

For students, it’s a net loss.

The change from overhead to interactive whiteboards (IWB, most schools in our district buy the Smart brand) is a little more complicated but also represents a net loss.

Overhead projectors are designed for classroom lecture/demo presentations and, for the most part, were used exclusively by teachers. Sometimes students would be the presenters but that was not common.

IWBs, used with a data projector, are little more than a high tech, expensive, replacement for the overhead projector.

Except that these devices cost far more than the previous versions, money that could have been better spent to put technology in the hands of students, and like overhead projectors, reinforce a traditional teacher-centered approach to instruction.

So, there actually is a connection between students taking their standardized tests online and IWBs.

Both represent bad instructional practice and suck up resources that could be better applied to actually improving student learning.

And both represent change that does nothing to improve education.

*The common acronym for our Standards of Learning exams.


  1. The Science Goddess

    We are having the same growing pains here in WA. But the push came as a result of the constant griping about how long the (paper and pencil) tests took, as well as the wait to get scores. It has been one of those “be careful what you wish for” lessons for teachers. Sure, you get the data faster…and kids test for twice as long on a single day (instead of splitting things over two days)…but now every computer in the school is tied up for weeks.

  2. Dave

    Unsolved problems are becoming unavoidable dead weight. Too much reliance on standardized testing plus not enough computers/devices for student use equals a growing pile of inefficiency. It’s nice that people are trying to move forward and make improvements, but eventually they’ll have to assess whether cement shoes are the best footwear.

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