01 April 2012

Kentucky Fan Reflects on Sports/Test Prep Analogy

True sports fans Beware!  A Kentucky fan who doesn't know much about basketball is about to explain why she doesn't buy the practice for tests/practice a game sports analogy.

Sports have never really been my passion, but when I moved to Kentucky almost nine years ago, the contagious Kentucky Wildcat fever was difficult to shake.  In the high school where I taught, sports were as important as they are in most high schools.  Our administrators commonly used sports analogies to explain why they thought we should practice for the state assessment.  It never really made sense to me—was that because I wasn’t a true fan? Or because I wanted to do more than practice for tests?

Me:  “Why do we have to force so many practice tests on our students?”
Administrator:  “We wouldn’t ask the players to go on the basketball court after practicing football all year, would we?  Test practice is the same thing…we have to practice the tests so the students will score well and our school test scores will improve.”

I didn’t buy it then and I still don’t.  Students will not have a passion for learning if all we ever do is practice for tests and if we measure the success of students and teachers based solely on summative test scores. 

As I watched the big Kentucky Wildcats versus Louisville Cardinals basketball game last night, I listened to the sports commenters and the coaches talk about skill associated with effective play.  I didn’t hear—they should have practiced more.  I did hear— “A summer in the weight room and that player will have what he needs.”  What if we equate the conditioning and muscle building a player does in the weight room to the critical thinking and creativity that sharpens the brain when we engage students in meaningful learning in the classroom. 

Let’s celebrate the wins of students who can make plays that can’t be coached just as Kansas Coach, Billy Self, suggested when asked about the Kentucky players his team will face Monday night for the National Championship.  As quoted in the Lexington Herald Leader “…They're terrific. They're great. They have guys who can make plays you can't coach."