Schools Monday: Sorry, No Field Trips--The Testman Cometh
The memo went out to all D.C. school principals on March 3--from that day forward, for the next seven weeks, all schools are instructed to "suspend any non-instructional activities that take students and teachers away from the classroom." Translation: No field trips or other outside activities until after the week of standardized testing that starts April 22.
Ever since Chancellor Michelle Rhee came into office, she has decried the hegemony of test-taking and test prep, promising audiences throughout the city that she is intent on restoring the art, music, physical education, science and literature lessons that have been squeezed out of so many city schools in the ever-more desperate effort to boost perennially awful test scores.
But the federal No Child Left Behind regimen of testing is relentless and unforgiving. Schools are judged by scores, and D.C. school kids as a whole do especially poorly on tests. So now, according to the memo from the District's Chief of Schools, Tracy Martin, and the Chief of Teaching and Learning, Sherry Ulery, the remaining weeks before the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System test is administered will be devoted largely to test prep. "We can ensure student success by maximizing the amount of time devoted to quality instruction," their memo says.
"A lot of our kids haven't made AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress, No Child's term for the measurement that determines whether a school's students have progressed sufficiently in reading and math] in a long time," says Rhee's spokesman, Mafara Hobson. "The focus right now is to get them adequate preparation for the tests. It's certainly not the system's goal to stifle any learning going on outside those tested areas."
But arts groups and other organizations that devote resources to getting D.C. kids out of failing schools and into experiences that might help kindle some love of learning are appalled that the new chancellor would push a single-minded focus on test prep. Alarmed arts and humanities group executives have been trading emails since the D.C. schools memo came out, wondering if the chancellor in whom they had invested so much hope could really turn out to be as antagonistic toward enrichment programs offered by outside groups as previous D.C. superintendents have been.
D.C. schools officials say they mean to send no such message. "The chancellor is a very big advocate of expanding education outside the core subject areas," Hobson says. She says the trips that won't be taken are distractions that could impede the system's ability to demonstrate progress. "One class had a ski trip they were scheduled to go on before the test," Hobson says. "A ski trip!"
But while some trips surely represent bogus and inappropriate uses of school time, the overall message being received by cultural and academic organizations that want to help the D.C. schools is that test taking is paramount.
Hobson says the chancellor will show in the coming months that she is serious about restoring programs that previous leaders of the system zapped to worship at the altar of the standardized test. "Just for this small time period, we're trying to drill instruction on core areas that are going to be on the test," Hobson says, "so our test scores can go up."
That sounds awfully like a collective cramming exercise, and cramming is a good way to turn kids off from the joys of learning. It's also an ineffective way to teach facts, let alone concepts. It is, rather, a sign of desperation and cynicism--the kind of clumsy maneuver that District schools have been known for for decades. Hardly the sign that a page has been turned.
By Marc Fisher |
March 17, 2008; 8:15 AM ET
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