Now that the initial cheering has stopped, you must consider what happens next.
Like many, my initial reaction was to leap for joy. Two fewer tests for over-stressed children and teachers! Life could go back to the way it was before the tests when we had standards (1988-1994). In those years, we had a unified state curriculum, and we had unencumbered time to teach and develop creative instruction. But I've learned that you can never really go back in time.
These aren't the 80's and early 90's. The unified curriculum powerfully codified the haphazard curriculum pieces from each of the 135 school divisions. I remember my children groaning prior to the curriculum realignment when we'd begin our study on "The Human Body."
"What do cells do?"
"They help you live and grow."
It seems that kids had been taught the same thing year after year. The new standards erased all of that, and education across the state was unified and broadened.
The tests, however, DESTROYED education in Virginia. Over the past 14 years since the testing component was first piloted then fully implemented, public school education has gone comparatively from a fine meal at an Italian restaurant (okay an exaggeration: Olive Garden) to some kind of McDonald's Happy Meal with a Star Wars action figure. In addition, today's education is like waiting in line for that Happy Meal with hoards of sick people with strep throat sniveling next to you while you all watch the customer countdown clock for your meal. When you finally get your meal, you just want to flee from there as quickly as possible.
What I'm trying to say is that the tests have taken joy out of teaching and replaced it with non-productive stress. Why we are subjecting anyone to these stress levels is beyond my comprehension. Moreover, subjecting 8 year old children to this stress is criminal. So you can understand why I would leap with joy to hear that two of the four tests for third graders would be obliterated.
The story isn't quite as simple as all that, however. Latest word I'm hearing is that the state doesn't just want to get rid of the tests because they realize that 8 and 9 year-olds are being over-tested and stressed-out (wow...a triple hyphen sentence). Instead, they want to REPLACE the test with a NEW test on Algebraic functions. That's right, a SECOND MATH TEST!
I've long argued for a mathematics program that embeds algebraic theory in the earliest levels of instruction. We're too stuck on computation to see that mathematics truly is a language. You don't learn German by memorizing a few words and rules. You learn it by being immersed in the its whole complexity. The funny thing is that back in the late 1980's-through early 1990's, such a program existed. It was called Comprehensive School Mathematics Program (CSMP). This program, which was created by a team of teachers and engineers after the 1980 NCTM standards were approved, was a successful public/private partnership geared to the infusion of logical thinking, algebraic functions, computation, probability and set theory into one cohesive program. The program began at Kindergarten and had initially expanded to sixth grade where more traditional math classes picked up. CSMP, however, died when federal support dried up in the late 80's and the state assessment program followed a different, computational/word problem based curriculum in the mid 90's. Now the state wants Algebra back in...[sigh].
Back to the original subject, I also have fears that Social Studies and Science instruction will suffer if the tests are erased. As long as there are high stakes tests in other subjects, then teachers will feel intense pressure to devote the lion share of their instructional time to the tested subjects. History, Geography, Science may all suffer from instructional starvation. Starving these areas won't help at all when these children reach the upper elementary grades and are faced with Social Studies and Science tests that cover massive amounts of material.
Anyway, taking away the tests isn't as simple and liberating as it may at first appear. Crack is highly addictive, and it's very bad for you.