Bill Pushed Me, Again.

I was just trying to respond to Bill’s comment on a previous post and then this happened:

Bill,

As always, a great question.  I have to tell you, that very same question came to us very soon after we introduced this class to the department that would be teaching it.  The Language Arts department asked whether or not this class was a permanent class, or one that would be phased out after a few years (other changes had been made within the last two years to this department, and they were/are skeptical).  Your question goes at the very heart of the debate about state testing: if classes are designed around state standards, and state assessments are designed to reflect mastery of state standards, what happens when your students don’t perform well.

From reading your writing, I know you often struggle with this issue of having your students learn a great deal, but not perform where they are “supposed” to on the state assessment.  What we did when we designed this class was to remove that pressure from the design.  We still have standards, but we are using standards from every core discipline (and some others) that the state of New Jersey standardizes.  Only, we took the standards that we might call “Power Standards,” and used them.  For example, one of the science standards we chose to write our curriculum around is:

” Habits of Mind

1. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of data, claims, and arguments.
2. Communicate experimental findings to others.
3. Recognize that the results of scientific investigations are seldom exactly the same and that replication is often necessary.
4. Recognize that curiosity, skepticism, open-mindedness, and honesty are attributes of scientists.”

We left these teachers with the ability to create a standards-based class, but give them a little leeway in their ability to cover broad topics and insert seemingly insurmountable problems into their students’ course of study.

So, to answer your question with a question, should low performance on state tests eliminate a class that is based on standards from every core discipline?  My opinion is that it should not.  In a perfect world, this class, aside from the obvious benefits of metacognition and critical thinking, would provide the students with an edge in the open-ended section of the tests–the section of the test that allows students to express their answers in a few ways, other than just filling in bubbles on a scantron.

This is what happens when you let really smart people see your thinking.  I am glad I do this.

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