Time and time again I will say that my Grosse Pointe education is what makes me an eloquent individual. During my four years at Grosse Pointe South High School I had four rigorous English courses that emphasized the importance of grammar (thanks Veronica Ajavon and Brian McDonald), word choice (thanks Rose Ann Roarty), and analysis (thanks John Monaghan). Plus, my experience with our school newspaper, The Tower, helped me learn to craft persuasive points with limited column inches. Many of my peers across the country were not as lucky as me, and it showed when they struggled to complete writing assignments at Kalamazoo College. Today the Washington Post highlighted similar cases of students who weren’t quite prepared for the college experience.
One person who shared the story online implied that it’s because our teachers, particularly in the District of Colombia, spend too much time “teaching to the test.” While I agree with this individual that we should not base teacher evaluations fully on standardized test scores, I disagree with the point that we shouldn’t have standardized tests or that teachers shouldn’t teach students how to take those tests. I’ll add that responsibility here falls on district administrators, principals, and teachers.
First, district administrators and principals need to create an environment where standardized tests are not classified as “high stakes” indicators. Yes, they are a gauge of how students are performing at a given point in time, but schools should have their own indicators of success (in-class assessments and overall grades). These individuals also need to set the standard for their building, and motivate both teachers and students to meet their full potential. If that trust factor is not present, I know from my own experience that I am not going to make the grade.
Second, while teachers should be teaching test-taking strategies, I believe these should be saved for the week or two before a test. Of course, teachers should be teaching to the standards present on a test, but I’ve always found it important to allow students time for choice and in-depth study.
For example, in my kindergarten classroom last month, we wrapped up our year with a field trip to the Shalom Wildlife Sanctuary in West Bend, WI. There, students had the opportunity to see a variety of wild animals that they may have only seen in books. After the trip, we spent time thinking about the animals we heard about this year, and students selected an animal for further study. My assistant and I pulled out various books from across the building and we pulled out some laptops, too. Students had to search for information about their animal, record those facts down on paper, and then create a brief report about their animals.
Everything we do is a delicate balance. Do students need to know how to take tests? Absolutely, and not simply because we want to see how they’re doing in school. College and Universities want to know, too, and the ACT and SAT are going to be the only way they make it in to a top tier school. But, do students need to know how to research and write? Absolutely, and if anyone on the administrative end is saying otherwise they need to be reminded of our students’ long-term interests.
I was not the best student at Kalamazoo College — nowhere near the top. But, my decent testing skills and above average writing skills have proven to be a tool that can push me ahead of the pack. Our students in both cities, suburbs, and rural communities across the nation are not receiving this broad skill set. We need to provide that gift to all students, so let’s figure out how to strike the right balance in our schools.