The Standardized Test vs. The Crayon Box

Looking at USA Today’s op ed letters, “Learning at home,” is a response to “Schools teach for tests,” which argued that curriculum is often overly-focused on standardized tests and the test taking skills required. Ms. Joane S. Johnson commented about the lack of creative, out-of-the-box education imposed upon her high-achieving first grade grandson. In “Learning at home,” Heemyung-Hwang countered Ms. Johnson, saying that “it isn’t the schools’ job to teach creativity,” and that educators today should be focused on standardized testing and getting our students on a level where they can compete with “the rest of the world.”

In a recent school visit to Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary in East Harlem, CSF staffers saw how “creative education” was working to improve and support existing curriculum focused on standardized test preparation. MCHR has a thriving (and that word doesn’t even give it justice) music program in which all students participate in vocal music and/or violin classes twice a week. And, students also have the opportunity to participate in ballroom dancing classes (just like the movie!). And, the school participates in Creative Classrooms, a visual arts program that brings professional artists into schools to engage students in the visual arts. And, MCHR incorporates the Extended Day Program to give teachers and students the necessary time to do staff development, and increase student-teacher work in areas where extra time is needed. MCHR teachers specifically use this time to prepare their students for the NY state standardized tests—and it pays off. In 2008, 100% of 4th and 8th graders passed the New York State Mathematics, Social Studies and Science Exams. And 97% of 4th graders and 100% of 8th graders passed the New York State English Language Arts Exam. So the goal of high test scores is not incompatible with a creative, well-rounded education after all.

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