05 April 2013

Students Need Opportunities to Learn More than What's on the Test

Note--Arts & Humanties = 5 day rotation--1 day music, 1 day visual art
1 day P.E., 1 day library, 1 day writing
What do you notice about this fourth grade schedule?  Does it look like a schedule similar to that of your children and/or students?  Hopefully not, but I suspect it might.   We live in a school district that promotes the teaching only of subjects which are tested in a particular grade level.  This means my nine year old son who loves history has received little to no social studies formal instruction in his public school.  This is not the fault of the teachers—it’s the fault of a system which prioritizes subjects included in high-stakes testing.   At the elementary level social studies is tested only in fifth grade, so schools adjust what they teach and ignore social studies until that one year.  It doesn’t get much better when it comes to science; students around here only have official science instruction during fourth grade (again, the year it is tested).   My sixth grade son loves science, but he was offered science instruction only one year of his six years in elementary school.  I won’t even start on how limited the opportunities for technology and the arts are as well.  You see, these are the unintended consequences of state and federal mandates for high standardized test scores. 

If I were a pessimist, I might end my post here and tell you I’ve decided to remove my son from public school in search of a better alternative for a more well-rounded education.  However, I am an idealist and a dreamer who has a vision—a vision that we can collaborate to make a difference in the schools in our communities.  In fact, this vision or a similar vision is being enacted in a school district only about forty five minutes away from where we live.  In Danville, Kentucky, leaders of the schools and teachers are implementing project based learning as one way to meet the needs of students beyond what’s on the state standardized tests.  Kudos to this district!  I’m ready to move forward with creating more opportunities like this in my own district as well.  All students deserve the opportunity to learn more than what’s on the state test. 
Tower of books at Ford's Theatre
museum in Washington D.C.
In the mean time my husband and I supplement what our children learn at school with learning at home.  We encourage our children to be responsible and tech savvy citizens; we read content rich non-fiction as well as fiction and poetry.  We also take local and out of state trips (when possible) to promote active learning through experiences.  I feel fortuante that we can work to provide these experiences to our children, so when wearing my mom hat I feel fine about this supplemental approach to education.  However, when wearing my educator hat, I realize not all children have this same luxury of parents who are able or willing to supplement what they learn at school with more well-rounded experiences at home. 
 A few changes to our current system could provide more well-rounded learning experiences for all students, and that is my mission and my vision--to support educators striving to provide experiences for all students.  Please share your ideas and suggestions with me.