The following is an Op-Ed by Eloiza Jorge, an educator and Montclair mother.
The Montclair Public Schools is one of the biggest reasons I returned here to raise my children. I‘m thrilled to be part of this thriving, diverse community. Overall, I’m pleased with the quality and caliber of education my children receive– as a teacher educator and supervisor of student-teachers I can say that with confidence.
Yet, there are trends happening and decisions being made on our children’s behalf that we must critique. Here are five “fat” questions that may help you formulate a more informed opinion about our local BOE’s priorities and decision making when it comes to testing in our schools.
1. What’s the purpose of your children’s education?
Do you send your kids to school to gain skills they need to hold down a job? Is the purpose solely to prepare them for a next step, like college? How about discovering their gifts and weaknesses? How do kids develop perseverance and discipline? Do they get the chance to explore different disciplines and topics? How do you cultivate intrinsic motivation? What will help them lead more full and satisfying lives?
2. Which skills are relevant to your children’s education?
Surely, decoding words and computing math equations are vital skills. As are reading comprehension, analysis and critique, and problem solving. How about skills like creativity, finding meaning, contemplating alternative solutions, questioning, collaborating, inventing? Might other skills like empathy, enthusiasm and generosity be relevant? How do these skills get reinforced and further developed?
3. What’s the enduring message?
Twenty years from now what do you want your children to remember about school? What do you remember about school? Do you remember the rote memorization? Do you remember your scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (NJ schools circa 1980’s)? Or might you remember the teachers who challenged and encouraged you? Do have fond memories of science projects and constructing dioramas? Do you remember dressing up as your favorite historical figure? Or maybe your best memories are of field trips or volunteering in the community?
4. How will your children’s growth be measured in the long and short term?
How will you know your kids “get it”? What’s the best way to determine that? Would a project or re-enactment demonstrate understanding? Would a debate or speech prove they’re thinking critically? What role should multiple choice exams and standardized tests play in your children’s schooling? How will your kids show growth over time? What are alternative ways to assess student growth and achievement?
5. Why don’t the most prestigious and elite schools rely so heavily on multiple choice assessments and “cookie cutter” curricular standards?
Elite and prestigious schools certainly conform to what many would argue are high standards. Why don’t they rely as heavily on standardized curricula? Are high expectations and rigor the logical outcome of mandated standards and testing? Might high expectations and rigor be cultivated in an environment where questioning, creativity and innovation abound?
In the college classes I teach we call these “fat questions”. Questions that help us contemplate what’s meaningful and important. Questions that don’t have easy answers. My hope is that in grappling with these questions you feel more equipped to participate in dialogue with the town and the BOE about what we want for our kids.
Please join the discussion.