Wednesday, November 21, 2018

pandora's box

A few years back I was working in the Clear Spring School wood shop getting ready for classes that would follow summer break. A family with three kids drove by and seeing the school sign, decided to stop. They seemed impressed until the mother asked, "What are your test scores?" I attempted to explain that test scores were only a very small measure of student success and that we were not reliant on standardized testing to measure student performance. I could see in her face that she would not become the proud parent of students at the Clear Spring School.

What a long and ugly way we've come. As a student in Omaha Nebraska public schools in the 1960's we took the Iowa Basic Skills Test (focused only on the skills of reading, reasoning and math) and we were told to keep the results private. They were not to be shared. The test was not a competition between students or intended to give particular parents bragging rights. The test was intended to give administrators a sense of overall school performance, with the intention of improving education for all.

Somehow, the cat got out of the bag. All the crap stuffed inside got loose and standardized testing has become a plague upon mankind, upon schools, upon teachers and upon the individual students whose lives are from thence on based upon a day filling out dots.

When we took the Iowa Basic Skills test there were no practice tests. There was no cramming of students minds in preparation for the test. There was no ceremony to the process. We showed up thinking we were to have a normal school day. That's way different from now. And while schools were once concerned with individual children and their success, they've become creatures immersed in stats. The saddest part is that so many parents have also succumbed to the disease.

Wood shop, and the opportunity for students to do real things in school, that do not require standardized tests to measure, are ways to restore schooling. You do not need a standardized test to demonstrate that you can play a B flat on a clarinet. Nor do you need a standardized test to know that the thing you made in wood shop was your best effort or that you learned new things through your own creativity and engagement or that what you take home will be admired.

Make, fix and create.

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