The Chinese Fire Drill

Monday, October 4, 2010

My Perfect School: Part II

My Perfect School, Part II

Chapter 2: The Only Tests that Matter

Every state in the union now holds schools' “feet to the fire” by way of one more standardized tests.  The premise is that offering a universal test over basic skills as well as reading comprehension and critical thinking is a good benchmark for measuring the learning taking place at each school.  The strange thing about this is that we've already HAD that test for decades.

For all the huff and puff about these state-run tests, when most students leave high school the only scores they really sweat about are their SAT and ACT results.  This raises a rather obvious question: if we already had these tests in place, why have we put so much time and money into the development and implementation of separate tests that seem redundant at best?  The answer, unfortunately, is money and control.  The test manufacturing companies obviously see the benefits of pushing more than one test so they can maximize profits, and state boards of education have little ability to call the College Board and demand that they increase or lower results of the tests in order to “trend” their scores or “single out” schools they've been trying to shut down (this sounds like paranoia, I realize, but evidence is very slowly leaking regarding the corruption taking place between test creators, state education departments, and the real agendas they're pushing).
At My Perfect School, we only care about the SAT and ACT, and what little bit of lobbying we do bother with is spent on efforts to convince colleges to drop even the use of these tests as instruments for admission.  We philosophically believe that learning is intuitive.  Even when our teachers give their own tests for their own classes, they must ultimately make evaluations based on the STUDENTS rather than the tests.  For that reason, we heavily discourage the use of multiple choice, matching, true-false, and all the other “objective” forms of assessment.  We believe, no matter what class students take, they must be able to organize thoughts, frame an argument, support said arguments with evidence, and word them well.  Let's leave rote memorization and regurgitation to the Japanese.  After all that's worked out so well for them, right?
Chapter 3:  Our Notice to Parents

At My Perfect School we respect the rights of our parents, but we are also going to put them on a very simple notice: you are NOT educational experts; WE ARE.  In short, we always want input and cooperation with our parents, but, in the end, we're going to make the decisions we believe are best for the students, the school, and the institution of education.  Parents who lodge complaints against teachers will be expected to discuss the matter directly with the teacher in question first.  Then, if the matter remains unresolved, parents can take the issue to the administration.  Likewise, parents who question school polices and procedures are expected to present valid arguments supported by concrete evidence.  All discussions, claims, accusations, and arguments will be available for all parents' and all students' review.  We also believe that the burden of proof lies equally with both sides in a dispute.  If  said parents' cases have merit, then an appropriate disciplinary action or policy change will take place immediately.  However, parents who file complaints against a teacher in particular, and consequently fail to provide adequate proof supporting these complaints, will themselves face a review board comprised of fellow parents, teachers, students, and administrators.  If the board deems that parents appear to be abusing their rights and trying to influence the direction of education at the school, they will be effectively barred from school-related activities and given essentially one chance to avoid a repeat infraction.
Of course, parents who disagree with the review board's decision may always withdraw their children from My Perfect School and enroll them elsewhere.

An interesting footnote (June 2011):

At the end of this school year, a parent did indeed go after me. I'm not going to claim sainthood: I fell behind on my grading...way behind. But, in my defense, I offer exhibit A.  As long as this crucial time issue remains my chief hurdle, then I will always face this problem...unleass I choose to swtitch to multiple-choice and/or other "objective" tests.  In this case, the parent sent me one, single, solitary email (which I did not receive for whatever reason), and she turned me in.  She didn't try to call me; she didn't come to the school for a face-to-face.  The best part?  Because I failed to respond to the email that I didn't receive, I was reprimanded.

I was additionally reprimanded when support staffers turned me in for two clerical errors.  In both cases I had discussed the matter with each staff member in question.  In both cases, they gave me the impression that everything could be worked out, and that we could all learn from this.  In both cases, they went ahead and turned me in, anyway.

Life in public school.  Groovy.
Remaining Chapters:

4.  Why Our Teachers Are Different
5.  A Better Idea for the School Day
6.  Where We Spend OUR Money
7.  Rules the Really Matter
8.  Epilogue

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