By TERESA M. PELHAM
Special To The Courant
April 25, 2014
It's springtime, and that means it's time to test the kids.
This spring, as our children endure Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Testing —- a test of the test —- much has been written about how we measure the effectiveness of our teachers.
Think about your own best teachers. They probably did things a little differently. Maybe they played loud rock music while you dissected something. Or maybe they taught you about clouds by going outside and actually looking at clouds.
I'd say about 75 percent of the knowledge I attained —- and retained —- in college came from a class taught by a brilliant, ponytail-wearing, slightly disheveled guy who was up for tenure the semester I took his Organizational Communication course.
On our first day of class we were sorted into groups. Life is one big group project, he said. Most jobs require you to work with other people towards a common goal, so we might as well get used to it.
There would be no tests, no quizzes. Rather than require us to purchase a $120 textbook, we were expected, as a group, to write a textbook: A comprehensive Organizational Communication textbook that needed to include 500 terms, which we had to research and define (without use of the Internet.)
All of this led up to the big event on the last day of class: Quiz Show.
Teams competed by answering questions relating to our 500 terms. Who was Marshall McLuhan? What is the Glass Ceiling?
The college's tenure committee was present for Quiz Show, and witnessed what had been for me the best classroom moment ever. I was certain they would be similarly impressed.
Actually, they weren't. They said his teaching style was too unconventional. Tenure denied.
A few years ago one of my son's teachers asked if I could come to the classroom and talk to the kids about writing. Of course, I said, how about next week? No way, she said, laughing. Connecticut Mastery Tests were coming up in a month. They had no time to do anything other than prepare for the test (including learning how to write.)
That was the year I saw one of my kid's third-grade classmates crying as her mom dropped her off at school. She was anxious that she might not do well on The Test.
In that same school, kindergartners are no longer let outside for recess. For real. There's too much material to cover to prepare them for The Test, parents have been told.
So, what's the point here? What's our goal? We want to prepare our kids to compete globally in the workplace with kids who are somehow doing better than ours. So we test them. We compare them with children in other towns, in other states, and in other countries, such as Finland.
Yet everything we've learned about Finland's wildly-successful educational system is pretty much the opposite of what we're doing here in the U.S. The only mandated standardized test is the one given at the end of high school. No rankings are examined, and no comparisons are made between students in different regions.
I'm confident that if my kids' teachers are awesome enough to want to be teachers, they're passionate about wanting kids to learn. I know I'm not alone in saying that I'd be willing to ditch the tests and trust teachers to do what they do best, even with Led Zeppelin playing in the background.
Teresa M. Pelham is a freelance writer living in Farmington and is co-blogger for the Courant's Mommy Minute blog. Teresa is author of the children's book "Roxy's Forever Home," and the forthcoming "Roxy and Her Annoying Little Brother, Stuey," to be published in 2014. For more information visit www.roxysforeverhome.com.
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