To the editor:
I applaud the stellar NECAP test results of the Wilbur McMahon School (WMS) students and recognize the hard work of their teachers. For years, our students have consistently scored among the top school districts on state tests. I readily admit to a bit of self-congratulation when my WMS fourth graders “beat Barrington.” I confess to my share of “test prep” as the testing window approached. But, in years past, the test score was neither a goal in itself nor a measure of the teacher’s competence. And students who did not test well were not labeled “significantly below proficient” in reading, math, or writing. The test result was one score among many measures.
Over the years the tests have changed. As teachers and children become familiar with the current test and the scores improve, new standards and new tests are developed and we start the cycle again. I have been retired long enough that I do not know the details of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or the PARCC, but I find it sad that our children must take Interim Assessments to test their knowledge of the Common Core that will be tested on the PARCC test coming in 2014-15.
I came away from the April 10 Little Compton School Committee meeting thinking that the teachers are preparing the children for the NECAP next year by teaching Grade Level Expectations (GLEs ) which are now outdated because of the tougher CCSS. At the same time teachers are making sure the Little Compton kids have an advantage over others when the new test comes down the pike by incorporating the tougher CCSS. The principal made it clear that these Interim Assessments will give our students a leg up on other districts not requiring these tests. The teachers also know that these test scores are critical to their own evaluations and job tenure. Is this a whole lot of teaching to the test? You betcha! If you regularly attend school committee meetings, you know that there are many other in house assessments that consume learning and teaching time as well.
I was especially sad at that same meeting to hear the principal talk about consistency in curriculum as evidenced by his walking between two classrooms and seeing identical lessons. I trust that was more accidental than deliberate. However, in some systems uniform delivery of content is the rule. Although the content should be similar, the delivery should be what is appropriate to the children and their needs.
As a retired Little Compton teacher living in Little Compton and as the parent of a young woman who was a student at WMS, I have the opportunity to see and connect with many former students. Almost without exception these students will tell me that, back in their time, third grade was the favorite grade. Mrs. Up and Mrs. Mac were always cautious before jumping on some new teaching method or idea, but no one was better than those two teachers at seizing the teachable moment. Both of them could put aside the official lesson plan when a question or event sparked the children’s interest and, off the cuff, turn that question or event into a genuine learning experience. You cannot do this when you teach from a script! As a receiving teacher, I never found the incoming fourth graders wanting. In fact they were active, happy kids who for the most part loved school and performed well on the state assessment that was in favor that year. Of course, back then testing was not even begun until fourth grade so the early learning years were without that pressure.
We are lucky here in Little Compton. Children for the most part enjoy school and love their teachers, and the teachers are happiest when they are in their classrooms teaching. These musings are not meant to be critical of WMS, the teachers, or the administration. All are responding appropriately, as they must, to the current climate and demands of RIDE and the law. I would urge young parents, voters, future teachers, and potential school committee candidates to pay close attention to the press coverage of the controversy that surrounds testing and teacher evaluation. I believe in accountability. Testing is beneficial and necessary. Teacher evaluation done properly benefits everyone. But students and teachers across the state are test weary. Administrators cannot keep up with the paper work. I hope the Race to the Top will slow down the pace a bit and allow for some detours on the path to perfect scores. I do not believe that the perfect score is the ultimate goal.
Carol A. Belair