Friday, February 27, 2004

Dominoes

Sometimes, all that is necessary for change is for someone courageous to take action, much like Mayor Newsom did in San Francisco when he allowed City Hall to start marrying gay and lesbian couples. The issue has changed completely! It is now possible for other leaders to consider Just Doing It - like the mayor of the village of New Paltz, NY. Imagine if other cities and towns follow suit...

Mrs. Chew at a schoolyard blog wants schools to take courageous action in resisting the standardized-testing regime. I was so excited when kids in Massachusetts boycotted that state's MCAS back in 2000. I know that the potential is there to change the whole testing conversation by taking action, like San Francisco's actions changed the whole conversation about gay & lesbian marriage.

I guess, honestly, the reason I don't do something - like some of the teachers in Massachusetts did - is that I'm afraid, and I'm uncertain.

I'm afraid for my own job. I'm afraid for the reaction of my colleagues. I'm afraid they'd shut down our school - and I KNOW that would be bad for my students.

I'm uncertain about tests. I used to be against them in my gut, and I still am, for the most part. I'm definitely against yearly testing, which I think is needless and stressful. But there are things about New York's state exams - given in 4th and 8th grade - that I think are okay. The Intermediate Level Science Exam's performance test, for example, is totally reasonable and motivates schools to make sure their kids learn to use real science equipment. I'm sure there are other ways to motivate schools in this way, but the fact is that many schools cut stuff like hands-on science any time the budget gets tight. I dislike the multiple choice section of the test, though, because I would rather teach several important and complex topics well than every single sub-topic of Science shallowly, and I think the multiple choice section flies in the face of this. There are also many questions in the multiple choice section which I know will trip up my students because of the way they are written, even though my kids know the science behind them. Same thing with some of the diagrams. I know that my kids know a lot of science when they leave my class - I know because this year they make connections to what we learned last year, and because former students have told me that what we learned is helping them in ninth grade. But I am truly afraid that this knowledge will somehow not show up on the test, especially the multiple choice part.

I have so much admiration for people who stand up and do what they think is right, despite their fear and even their uncertainty. I will have to think more about this one.

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