Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Requirements Of Her Life

In two columns this week, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post wrote about a Florida veteran educator, school board member, and holder of two masters degrees who took and "failed" the standardized test that the state gives to all its public school students.

Of course, I'm not surprised. I'm sure I would fail it too. And so would you. That's because these tests largely address trivia that has nothing to do with whether or not people will be successful in life (e.g., steady employment, good personal and familial relationships, no chemical dependencies), or if they do try to get at meaningful stuff, they do so in such a poor way that the results are meaningless. This particular test-taker, who today helps run an organization with 22,000 employees and an annual budget of $3 billion, only got 10 of the 60 math questions correct and a 62% on the reading portion, which would translate to a "D."

"It might be argued that I've been out of school too long, that if I'd actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn't that miss the point? A test that can determine a student's future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can't see how that could possibly be true of the test I took."

I'll just add that these tests are used not just to determine a student's future, but their teacher's future as well.

Yesterday, one of the kids brought a small collection of leaves in from outdoors and left them on a shelf near where we hang our coats in the morning. I don't know who it was, so I'm not going to be able to assess whether or not she learned anything from the leaves themselves or the process that lead to those leaves being there. Of course, she collected those leaves, I'm guessing, before the actual start of school, so, you know, as the teacher I suppose I shouldn't get any credit for anything she might have learned anyway. 

Fortunately, I don't take credit for anything the kids learn at Woodland Park. What people learn is always up to them, always, throughout their lives. But I will take credit for having noticed those out-of-place leaves earlier in the morning and leaving them there where someone else could find them.

She picked one of them up and waved it around, walking in a circle with the leaf up over her head, watching it. If she'd been doing what she was "supposed" to be doing, she would have been standing in a line at the sink, waiting to wash her hands before eating her snack (which she never eats anyway). 

She carried the leaf out of the room where children were washing their hands, down a short flight of stairs and to the water fountain in the hallway. She put the leaf in the fountain and turned on the water, carefully modulating it to cause the stream of water to land on the leaf (it's not easy; if you turn it up all the way, the water splashes the wall above the fountain). 

She was so absorbed in what she was learning, whatever she was learning, that she hadn't noticed her teacher following her around, or if she did, she didn't acknowledge me until finally she said, turning around to look at me, "I put water on the leaf." About this time one of our parent-teachers gently ushered her along toward where the snack was being served, the snack she wasn't going to eat, the snack for which she hadn't washed her hands. She picked up the leaf, carried it absently, then dropped it on the floor just outside the classroom door. 

A few minutes later another child picked it up. I can't tell you what she learned either. But I will take credit for leaving the leaf on the shelf, then on the floor. Whatever she learned will most certainly not be on the test, but without question it relates to the requirements of her life.

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cheyenne said...

I read that article yesterday, and I love your thoughts on it!

Shellee said...

I don't have any really wise things to say about this. All I need to tell you is that reading this made my head tingle. So there you go, my head is tingling. (and that's a good thing) Thanks Teacher Tom.

Sarah said...

Thank you!

Dawn said...

I work in a preschool classroom and often find myself looking at the routine stuff (snack, washing hands etc) and missing the learning and teachable may never know what learning was happening...but that child will...wonderful blast back to what is really important

Anonymous said...


Laura said...

I like the thought of you stalking her with the camera. :)

I've always maintained legislative members couldn't pass the standardized tests. Glad to see I'm a big justified.

Maya Catching Butterflies said...

Tom, I'm not a smart person, never have been. However, I'm smart enough to know that I learn better by doing. Time over time I tell my children what to do and then find them standing there doing nothing. Eventually, one of them will speak up and say, "I don't know what you mean, show me." I think standardized tests are a bunch of hooey.