I’m still fleshing out how I feel about all of this. But I’ve got some ideas.
My general attitude about school is that a school’s job isn’t to teach kids how to memorize facts. It’s to teach kids how to learn. Because once they know that, they can tackle anything.
And a test doesn’t measure how smart you are – it measures either how well you understand an idea, or tells us what you need help with. By the same token, report cards are only reporting what a child does or doesn’t need help with – not how smart they are.
So what does that have to do with standardized tests, anyway? STAAR testing begins next week, so we had that discussion this morning.
Just like every other test they’ve taken, this test isn’t measuring intelligence. It’s not attempting to take a snapshot of a child at all. It’s measuring how well they understand certain ideas. And, it’s measuring how well the school is helping them understand. If a lot of students don’t seem to understand something that pops up on the test, the school will know that something isn’t quite right.
Naturally, my kids have heard the rumor that if you don’t pass the test, you don’t get to go to the next grade. I told them that was very rare, and that it’s because if a student needs more time to understand, then it seems like trouble to move them on to other things if they don’t have the right building blocks. To use academics they’ve experienced – being really good at addition helps you with multiplication, and you have to be comfortable with short stories before you’re ready for novels, right? And I think they can all understand. We just need to teach them in the same the way they need to learn.
I believe there’s another side to this coin, too. Texas just started a somewhat controversial system of grading schools with an A,B,C,D, or F letter grade. A bill was proposed in this legislative session that would reduce the impact standardized tests have on that letter grade, and put some emphasis on parent and community involvement. This makes some sense to me.
It’s not unusual for me to explain something to the kids in such a way that it makes no sense whatsoever. But when Daddy explains – the lightbulb clicks on. It’s also not uncommon for the teacher to explain something to the kids at school, and they kind of understand, but it doesn’t 100% make sense until we sit down and do it together as homework. This is part of the reason homework exists. It’s not just practice – it’s hands-on, practical application, and sometimes, hearing the words from a new voice or in a new way. Which is why “do some homework” is in the Mommy Rule Book – not just for kids, but for Mom and Dad, too.
(But we don’t do homework to the point of stress. Just enough to reinforce, but not enough to drive everyone nuts. There’s a different sweet spot for everyone, I suspect.)
I think there should be some way to measure a school’s effectiveness. I don’t think it lies in causing stress to anyone – that seems counter-productive. But it really doesn’t seem like all of the blame – or all of the credit – should be heaped on a school.
I tell my Scouts that their school is part of their community. The things that are taught in the school are going to affect the community. Just as school the affects the community – the community needs to remember that it also affects the school. Kids learn, and they grow up and become the people who create reality. Let’s help them make it a good one.