I want to first congratulate you on your ability to succeed in this era of high-stakes testing where many around you have failed according to national and state report cards. Your unparalleled success is one of the reasons parents often cite for moving to the area. Who wouldn’t want their children to attend a highly successful school district? That’s what I thought initially but I have completed changed my stance and I wanted to let you know why.
My kids entered your schools full of life and curiosity. Everything in their world began with a question and a relentless pursuit to figure out what made things work. This began to change as they progressed through school. They began to worry about grades and tests. They took practice test after practice test to get ready for the real test. Consequently, they began asking fewer questions and developed their skills around only answering questions with answer choices. They quickly lost the curiosity that led them to study topics, ask questions and find solutions.
It is for these reasons and more that I decided to move my kids to another district. It may not be as successful on state and national measures but I am okay with that. I needed them to pursue more than content knowledge applied to multiple choice assessments. It has only been four weeks since their move but I have seen my kids change once again.
My oldest completed his first science lab/experiment ever in his school career as an eighth grader during the first week of school. He has completed four more since that time and comes home to discuss them in great detail. He hated science and his teacher for most of last year because the subject was relegated to a stack of worksheets instead of a series of investigations. A student that could not stand the subject is now looking at attending a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) high school next year. He was also previously not allowed to take rigorous coursework because of a single score on a standardized test even though his grades and coursework were above average. He is now taking multiple high school courses as an eighth grader and is starting to feel that he could indeed be smart after all. How does this metamorphosis happen? He has been given opportunities by adults in a different system that values the learner over a single measure.
My youngest has moved from being required to complete practice tests weekly to being required to develop service learning projects around issues that are relevant to him. This same disengaged child is now determined to save the Earth from environmental disaster. He is driving me crazy about recycling, going green and solar energy instead of just following me around the house to sign his most recent test. He still has quizzes and tests and will ultimately take the standardized test at the end of the year. That just does not rule his world anymore. Questions and research now once again rule his world.
I am fortunate that I have the opportunity to change where my children attend. I know that not everyone is as lucky. I understand that schools have to meet certain criteria. I just disagree that this is where the school should put its aim. We cannot lose sight of what are true aim is no matter what benchmark or assessment is thrown our way. Aim to create problem solvers who find multiple solutions instead of ones that need answer choices. Students who think critically will be able to navigate and complete standardized tests. On the other hand, students who think in test-taking strategies will not be able to make a dent in the world no matter how high the test score is.
It is never too late to make a change, start a movement or just quit things that don’t make sense. It has certainly worked well for two kids I know. abc