Bissonette:We Teach to the Test, Much More | Guest Commentary
by Douglas Bissonette
Aug 15, 2007 | 314 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Ridgway Schools cheats. Well, sort of. We teach to the test. Put another way, we teach the basic reading, writing, math, and science skills that are required of all students throughout the nation. And we do it well. But we don’t stop there.

We provide a progressive education that includes extensive outdoor and experiential learning experiences for students. We offer a rich arts and music curriculum. We develop learning plans for students and tailor learning experiences to their unique needs. We teach critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Starting this year, all elementary students will receive high quality Spanish language instruction. Like all effective schools, we deliberately incorporate life skills such as leadership, ethics and self-direction into student learning. When Ridgway students travel outside the area, the response from our hosts is predictable – appreciation for how respectful and inquisitive the students are. None of this happens by accident. Our teachers set high expectations for students, and the students rise to the occasion. Ridgway Schools is a highly personalized learning environment, characterized by small class sizes and strong relationships between teachers, students and their parents.

Since life is full of tests, we give our students all the skills necessary to be successful when confronted with a test. First and most important is the core knowledge. So we teach kids how to read and how to read critically. We teach scientific theory as well as scientific reasoning. We also give students tips like getting a good night’s rest before the test and going in with a positive attitude. Electricians, real estate agents, school bus drivers, lawyers, tax advisors, teachers, and plumbers all have to pass tests. Does success on the test make for a good doctor, lawyer or teacher? No. But you have to pass the test to be in the profession or vocation. We are committed to providing our students the skills to be able to pursue their chosen goals in life. Demonstrating their knowledge on tests is just one skill they’ll need.

Tests are just one kind of assessment, though. They are limited. Just because a lawyer passed the bar doesn’t mean he/she is going to win in court. Because tests are limited, all teachers use a variety of other assessments to understand what their students know and are able to do. Direct observation is a very effective assessment tool used by every teacher. It is also used by every parent with their children. Our teachers use rubrics to add structure to their observations and evaluations. Ridgway teachers have students demonstrate their knowledge through activities like performances and presentations. Some teachers keep artifacts of student work throughout the year, much like a portfolio, or they have the students develop their own portfolios. Many teachers structure reflective activities to help students gain self-awareness and become better stewards of their own learning.

The results from the 2007 state-mandated achievement tests – CSAP – were released to schools last week. Ridgway students did great. Considering all the tests, and all the students, 73 percent demonstrated proficient or advanced skills in reading, writing, math, and science. Another 22 percent scored partially proficient. So 95 percent scored partially proficient, proficient and advanced. Fewer than 5 percent demonstrated unsatisfactory skill levels. Overall this is an unqualified success for Ridgway students, especially since the state average was 57 percent for proficient and advanced skills and 12.5 percent at the unsatisfactory level. With all the consternation about global competitiveness, the federal No Child Left Behind education law and public education reform, there is no doubt about one thing: standardized testing is not going away. Colorado’s tests provide a reliable indication of students’ skill levels in a few critical subjects. The test is not perfect, and it’s just a snap shot. But there is no doubt that Ridgway students showed that they possess some of the critical skills for success after school, as well as during school. It’s a powerful base for the other learning that happens at Ridgway Schools.

Douglas Bissonette is superintendent of Ridgway Schools.

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