Sunday, August 3, 2008

Back to School

It is almost time for school to start again and thoughts turn to ... standardized testing. Somehow that doesn't seem right, does it?

Our school is an inquiry-based, child-centered, public charter school. (Note the PUBLIC part, some people whose job it is to tend to the needs of ALL children seem to need reminding.) We started it because we support public schools, but reject the cookie-cutter, silent-lunch, accelerated-reader model that is popular. That works for some kids, but not for all. Not even for most. We wanted children to have a place where their curiosity, ingenuity, and responsibility were honored and nurtured. We wanted the learning to go on long before and long after the TEST.

Ironically, because we are new and untried, the TEST is what people see. And that is not a good thing.

Have I told you my favorite TEST story? I could scroll back and look, but I'm not going to. OK, here it is. When I was in school, I LOVED STANDARDIZED TESTS. Three or four days of silently bubbling in circles. Three or four days in which I did not have to talk to my teachers or other students. Three or four days in my element: me against the TEST. And I always won.

One year, when I was in high school, something happened. I decided I didn't want to take the TEST. I wasn't up for it. On the first day, I took the TEST but I wasn't happy about it. The second day, I was "sick." I stayed home and watched soap operas and game shows. The third day I returned with a better attitude and took the TEST some more. Sometime the next week, I got out of class to make up day two.

In all my years of test taking, the lowest I'd scored was the 97th percentile. On the day I had a bad attitude, I scored in the 86th percentile. Day three I was back up to 98th and on the make up day, I was at 99th percentile. The point is not that I am bright, or I am a good test taker (although thank you for noticing). It is that the scores were affected by a BAD MOOD. If that had been PACT or the SAT, my life could have been changed because I was in a BAD MOOD one day. And that is not a good thing.

Let me go back a bit and say, I understand and support the need for accountability in ALL schools. These are our children here. We can't subject them to the Education Fruit of the Month club and not check to see if it's working.

But who are the geniuses who make these magic tests that can tell us whether a child is learning with one test, delivered to one learning style, on one day? And to be fair to the geniuses, they don't necessarily think their test should be the end all and be all of accountability. This ain't law school.

The SC legislature, with the help of the SC Department of Education, is trying to come up with a new plan for assessing progress of students and insuring accountability of educators. Unfortunately, the legislature wants a single number they can look at and show on a 30 second television ad. They want to be able to compare apples, oranges, and roast beef. They want a definitive, concrete, cheap solution.

Bless their hearts.

But let us remember the children--- the ones today, the ones tomorrow, and the ones we once were.

No comments: