Virginia Gov. George Allen has called the adoption of new standards for public school accreditation "the most enduring legacy" of his administration. He could be right, but that legacy may not be good for the children of the commonwealth.
The amount of school time that will be devoted to the governor's 800-percent increase in standardized testing, for example, should give most parents pause, especially because the tests essentially will measure only how much material children have been able to memorize from the new Standards of Learning.
These standards were adopted by the state Board of Education over the objections of many educators and parents, and the tests that go with them will give no indication of how well Virginia's children are doing compared with children in the rest of the country. What's more, the state Board of Education adopted a requirement that 70 percent of the students in a school must pass the new tests in order for the school to be accredited. This requirement was mandated before the tests had been fully developed and is a purely arbitrary number without a basis in any accepted test or measurement principles.
Many parents will be upset by the grade-level inappropriateness and biases in the social studies and English standards. The governor may call this piling on of material inappropriate to a child's grade level "higher academic standards," but missing from the program is any emphasis on critical thinking or problem-solving. Allen has criticized teachers who oppose his new standards as being part of the "educational establishment." Yet, ironically, he quotes the American Federation of Teachers' opinion that the standards are "exemplary." The specificity of the standards may appeal to a work-to-the-rule labor union, but they hardly inspire creative or innovative teaching. Instead, they will encourage drills and teaching to the tests.
The Allen plan will have a detrimental effect on local school boards too. The family-life-education program, which was operating effectively for 98 percent of the parents, has been bounced to the local school boards as an optional program by the state board, whose members can be counted among the 2 percent of parents who did not like the program.
At a time when local school boards face challenges of budget, discipline, aging facilities, etc., they are going to face regular petitions to drop family-life education, even though not one local school board asked the state to make this program optional. In fact, the School Boards Association opposed the action.
The governor's call for educational accountability sounds good, but as implemented by the state Board of Education, it is open to many questions. In the year 2000, when the governor is looking at a run for another public office, people will be asking who got us into this mess. It's a legacy our governor should have to live with. -- Kenneth R. Plum
a Democrat, represents Fairfax County in the Virginia House of Delegates.