Roger Marolt: Testing to see if our students are becoming good widgets
I hope they move the bottom of Lift 1A to the top of Corkscrew before state-mandated standardized test scores becomes the central theme of another local school board election.
I worry about the lingering rumor generated in the recent go-round that test scores fell 14 percent in one year and our schools are suddenly in decline. Common sense assures us this is nonsense. Unless it was something in the water supply, our kids aren’t 14 percent dumber than a year ago. Somebody seriously misinterpreted the numbers in coming to that conclusion.
This cave-in at the data mine not withstanding, the point of education should be to raise smart, socially and emotionally well-adjusted, confident, healthy and happy children. When we look primarily to standardized test scores to gauge our kids’ progress toward this end, we don’t get nearly the complete picture and end up commoditizing students. They become outputs with value measured in standard deviations from the mean confirmed by high R-squared values in the regression analysis.
Why is the hyper-infatuation with standardized test scores growing? I think it has far, far less (i.e. nothing) to do with preparing our students for productive and happy lives as it does with getting a few into highly selective colleges.
If that’s the case, it would appear college entrance exam scores should be more of a personal thing rather than a community goal. If you desire high test scores for your child so they can get into, say, Harvard, the routine is to hire a test tutor and do a six-month, intensive drill-down on books full of multiple choice questions from previous college admissions tests. This approach has proven effective.
So, why the push to gear school curriculum toward state standardized testing for everyone? Well, it turns out that a child’s individual ACT scores may not be enough to distinguish themselves in the incredibly competitive application pool for top- tier colleges. Now, you not only have to have great test scores yourself, but you also need to be attending a high school with incredible overall test scores for the entire student body, which translates into a higher ranking for the school. In other words, I need your kids to score well on standardized tests to make mine look better.
In this insidious scenario, you can see why the maniacal drive toward school-wide high test scores is an exercise in turning our kids into widgets (aka well-rounded stepping stones). We put the holistic development of the individual on the back burner so that we can produce a quality-controlled, homogenized, assembly line product that fits nicely on an eye-level shelf in shiny, uniform packaging.
What is missed in the discussion is that colleges are increasingly looking past national high school rankings based largely on standardized test scoring results. It makes sense. Interestingly, unique schools with a variety of high quality and innovative academic programs produce better college candidates for them.
When we talk about teacher retention, the discussion is almost exclusively focused on salaries and health insurance. The sad truth is that budgets are extremely tight and all schools don’t have extra piles of money laying around.
So, how about working conditions for teachers as an enticement? What passionate, educated, dedicated teacher wants to spend their career teaching to standardized tests? That directive leaves little room for unleashing creativity and talent on the job. It is the difference between working the floor of a factory and being turned loose in a high-tech lab.
Aspen public schools were an incubator for me. Incredible teachers, mentors and coaches embraced me. Its outdoor education and experiential education programs transformed me. Its academic curriculum engaged me. The sum prepared me well for college, work and life. I am humbly grateful to this community for its desire, dedication and commitment to helping me become the best human being I can be and to inspire me to aim at that for my lifetime. I am an Aspen creation, not a product! Even still, my overwhelming gratitude is best revealed in seeing my children experience this through the long-held vision, traditions and mission of this unique local educational opportunity.
Some say our schools could be better. I suppose this is true simply because nothing is perfect. But if we need to improve, it is probably more appropriate to do it through tweaking rather than tearing apart. I don’t like it when some hang the doom and gloom portrait to effectuate change. Somewhere along the way I learned that great art is always an expression of truth.
Roger Marolt is tremendously proud of our local schools. Email at roger@maroltllp
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