school

We Want Unique Kids, But We Teach Them Standard

This post originally appeared in The Northeast Georgian on April 24, 2015.

It’s spring. Farmers turn soil into bounty. Thunderstorms rush us inside. Fresh cut grass permeates the air. Teachers find their brave face.
Because it’s test week. This week The Georgia Milestones replaced the CRCT as the public school’s assessment and accountability tool for students and teachers. Those who conceived it say it’s a better test, more aligned with the new standards, more user friendly, more likely to give an accurate indicator of where a student and school stands against the other public schools in the state.
As a former educator, I was elated to lose the CRCT and its pass/fail requirement for certain grades. I was thrilled to hear this new test might actually assess students the way they are being taught. Until I realized that meant teachers are working with standards that lack creativity and are simultaneously above and below common grade-level expectations. For instance, students read excerpts of informational texts but rarely an entire book. The standards fit the test all right, and when followed should produce a nice standard score. But where’s the joy of learning in that?
When it comes to intellect, we are not one size fits all.
I know teachers have mixed emotions about the test. I’ve talked with them and seen the fear in their eyes when I ask how the computer administration is working. On one hand, we’re raising a technology-driven society. On the other, we’re still limited by server capabilities and physical equipment. My daughter retook a section of the test this week because her computer logged her out on question nine. She wasn’t stressed, but that night she prayed for her teachers, because she knows that incident worried them.
Teachers have put on their game face. They’re doing what must be done to keep funding in our schools, to keep schools run by local boards instead of state know-it-alls, and they know through it all, their own jobs ride on the scores those tests produce.
It’s a terrifying thought. What if doctors were assessed yearly by whether or not they had the same outcome for all their patients? Everyone who has a tonsillectomy should recover in three days with no complications. Oh, your patient now has neurological difficulties? Well, then, you fail.
My daughter’s surgeon would be out of a job due to circumstances he couldn’t control or have foreseen. 
That’s what we’re telling teachers. Regardless of a student’s domestic or socio-economic background, after a certain number of days in your classroom, all students should be able to perform the same. Including students with learning disabilities. After all, the computer will ensure a standard administration. No worries about cheating.
Except no one wants to discuss the pressure that drives an educator (like the ones convicted in Atlanta) to believe cheating is actually helping. They were misguided, sure, but ask any teacher and they’ll tell you a standardized test should be nothing more than a tool. One piece of the puzzle to  helping a student succeed.
The same breath that reads aloud the standard rules of test administration is the one that has encouraged our students. Don’t be like everyone else. Be yourself. Be unique.

Except of course on the test. Then, just be standard.
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