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DANCING ON THE BLACKTOP

dancehands.jpg

It has been a while since my last contribution. If that sounds to some like the opening line of confession.... perhaps it is.

I confess. I was a party to denying our kids.

We received our test scores from the California Standards Test a few weeks ago and we danced for a while because we knew our students had done so well. Sky-high. Record results. We now have an Academic Performance Index of 835 which represents a growth of 320 points over the past ten years. And in California, edging above 800 is the name of the testing game.

So now we are above 800. Now what?

I talked to one of our 5th grade teachers who helped nearly 80% of her students score proficient or above in math. (Not long ago, less than 20% of our students were at grade level in anything!) She was proud and excited and rightly so. She had worked hard at it. She used all of our formative assessments, collaborated with colleagues, designed strategic spiral review sessions, worked before and after school with targeted groups, tightened her instruction, increased math and language arts time, worked closely with parents, conducted home visits, and sought out every possible intervention she could find. And it worked.

And I wondered: how long can our teachers keep up that pace? And now that the AYP bar goes up another 10 points in California... how long can a school keep it up?

We all but eliminated science. And social studies. There was so little music. Hardly any arts. Limited time for physical education (yes I know it is required by Ed Code!). We didn't have dances on the blacktop like the year before. Or teams. Our students were not asked enough to think critically or creatively. They did not ponder the engineering difficulties of the gulf oil crisis let alone the long term impact on the natural ecosystems there. They didn't discuss the politics of unemployment or global warming or the conflicts of culture world-wide. There were no science fair entries or models constructed of the California Missions. They didn't solve "real" problems at all.

But they did plenty of practice problems and sample test items that had been released by the California Department of Education so that kids can prepare for the CST. And it paid off in our API. And I confess. I feel like we robbed them, in many ways, of the joy of learning.

This year, we still intend to prepare our students for the standardized tests. We just aren't going to sacrifice real teaching and learning to do it anymore. We are bringing back the curriculum that matters-- including science and social students and PE and the arts. We want our kids to think again. We want them to have opportunities to apply their learning in authentic ways again. We want them to find their voice again. To dance on the blacktop. To score 860.

Written by Kevin W. Riley, "El Milagro Weblog"

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