What do school children need to learn, how do they learn best, and who should decide? This is the substance of a long-running debate in Virginia, with a new movement under way led by the National Governors Association to set rigorous national standards for learning math and English.
Virginia's struggle to set history and social studies standards over the last fifteen years offers an informative lesson in the complicated process of setting SOLs at the state level-and how teachers and students have learned to adapt to them, according to van Hover, Hicks and Stoddard.
The state moved to the forefront of the curriculum standards movement in the 1990s under Republican Governor George Allen, who initiated a standards-based program. As part of this program, Virginia revised its social studies standards in a contentious, divisive and politically charged process about what should be included and what students should learn. The struggle to craft these standards involved ideologies, arguments, negotiations and compromises that ultimately influenced what is being taught and learned in classrooms across the state, as the authors recount the story.
"In Virginia we are now seeing a new landscape emerge, where success as a history and social science teacher is aligned with how well students do on multiple-choice tests. State accreditation of schools rests with how well students do on such tests and teachers know that the content of these tests is clearly laid out." In short, "teachers and their students have figured out how to pass these tests." Important questions and more debates about the direction of state and federal educational policies will again arise, the authors write.