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Letter to the editor: Allow schools to create programs, assessments

Friday, August 16, 2013 - 12:01 am

Lately I have grown so weary of all of the labeling and grading of children that when I drive down the road and see a car proudly sporting a bumper sticker that proclaims, “My child is an HONOR student at ‘X’ school” or when I see a school sign board boldly proclaiming, “We are an A school,” I wonder if the purpose is to honor that child and that school, or is it to let others know that they are not good enough?

Since buildings are not people, I wonder how a building can receive a grade, unless of course, it comes from a building inspector. I also wonder how it must feel to students and teachers who go to a C school in a nearby neighborhood? I also wonder how it must feel to be a valedictorian at a school which receives a C, D or F rating. Does that mean that all of the work that student has done to excel academically is for naught? I also wonder if my neighborhood school receives a lower grade, what does that rating mean to my property value. What does it mean to my community?

Politicians keep saying parents need to be able to choose which school their children should attend, but I would contend that they already have those choices. While our legislators assume the reason a family would choose a school is because of a dubious letter grade, I would counter that people choose schools for a variety of reasons, the least of which is an arbitrary grade.

Perhaps many people choose their schools because they want their children to attend neighborhood schools within walking distance from home. Some choose schools because of programs like Montessori or New Tech or IB. Some choose schools because of music or arts programs. Some choose schools because they have talked to friends and neighbors and church members and found that a particular school seems like a good fit for their child.

I have never heard anyone say their kids are going to this or that school because of the state letter grade any more than I remember any kid ever coming back years later to walk down memory lane to remember some awesome test I gave.

Accountability has become the catch phrase of the reformers; however, for many reformers/policy makers/politicians/know-it-alls, data seems to be the only means of assessment they understand. However, this flies in the face of what most educators know. If a test is to be meaningful, it should only be used for diagnostic or for evaluative purposes. Tests should give us information about what skills and concepts have been mastered and which skills and concepts still need more work. Most teachers can assess what is happening in their classrooms by walking up and down the aisles, by looking at student work, by looking and listening to what the students are saying and doing and by reading the clues of the classroom environment. Can those things be measured on a data sheet? Probably not. However, most of us know a good school, a good class, a good teacher when we see it.

I have no issue with holding teachers to the highest standards; however, why do we not hold that same level of accountability to students, to parents, to administrators and to policy makers? When we single out teachers and schools as the only ones who are to be held accountable, that does make me wonder what the real agenda is. Why in the world should we siphon even more tax dollars out of all already cash-strapped schools to pay a dubious testing company with some mysterious grading system to come in to evaluate students, teachers and whole school communities based on a test score that may or may not have any bearing on what the teachers are teaching or what the students are learning.

Perhaps, one solution might be to untie the hands of teachers, administrators and school boards to allow them to create programs and assessments that are instructionally sound. Instead of hampering the classrooms with the latest, greatest experts’ ideas, why not trust them by giving them the resources, the class sizes and the support needed to improve what has been judged so harshly?

Perhaps we should include parents and teachers in this very important discussion.

Phyllis Bush