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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fields That Count

Field days and field trips are traditional signs that the end of the school year is approaching. Unfortunately, another indicator of the waning days of the school year is the multitude of state mandated assessments. These two strands of events, though similar in their appearance on the calendar, are as different as night and day.

Think back on your own end-of-year days in school across the grades of your youth and I doubt that you will recall your performance on tests before you remember your experiences on field trips and field days. That contrast should mean something. Sure, the tests are important, even if the state accountability system exaggerates their significance (especially now that the performance of teachers is measured in large part on the test outcomes of learners), but they don't produce lasting memories.

I don't dismiss the role of state tests. The data offers valuable reference points upon which we can design responsive strategies to promote success in learning. It's just that the means are appearing to be digested by the ends, rather than justifying them. I recognize that school isn't all about memories, and memories won't lead to jobs and security,.... I get that. But instructional integrity seems to be eviscerated by the growing demands of testing. I liken it to a regimen some adopt when trying to lose weight. You can weigh yourself every hour of the day but that alone does not produce weight loss. Measuring is helpful but distracting unless combined with changed behaviors involving nutrition, caloric intake, and exercise. So it is with these high stakes assessments. The more we administer, the less time we have for instruction.

Sadly, the more emphasis we place on tests and test prep, the less we devote toward opportunities like recess and field trips. Both of these experiences provide socialization and discovery. Recess becomes a bit of a social laboratory involving interactions, activities, exercise, cooperation, and engagement. Field trips supply many children with new experiences evolving from new venues that otherwise might escape the child.

This resurrects a favorite quote, from George Pickering:
"Not everything that can be counted counts; not everything that counts can be counted."

Think about that for a while...

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