Things keep changing in public schools, with education officials rethinking report cards and annual schoolwide tests, introducing new technology to the classroom — itself a malleable definition — and changing district lines and affiliations.
Through it all, something remarkable still happens in public schools: teachers teach and students learn.
Parents and the rest of the general public are increasingly left in the dark about what goes on in the classroom, with ever-evolving education standards creating an impenetrable cloud of policy jargon. PBL and IEP, SBAC, NCLB, AYP?*.
OMG, unless you’re well-versed in education policy and current events, you might not have any idea what all those things mean when educators and school board representatives sprinkle them amid otherwise normal conversation.
Take the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, that assemblage of states — stretching from coast to coast — now working together to test our children. Recently, education officials announced they would be making changes to the assessment, three years after it launched. It would be good if the test-makers could figure out how to make their standardized tests, you know, standard.
At the beginning of the current millennium, just before No Child Left Behind was rolled out, the mantra among educators was, “Don’t teach to the test.” Sometime in the past, that became, “Well, at least make sure it’s a good test.”
Michael Hock, the Vermont Agency of Education’s assessment director said in small schools, “one bright student can tip the average and make it look like there was a positive change.” He said the converse is also true, where one bad tester can skew an entire school’s results the other way.
No pressure, kiddos. It’s only your entire school’s reputation on the line.
As Vermont educators tweak the delivery method for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Coalition test — no more testing for juniors, who will be freed from regurgitating what they learned a grade level and a summer vacation prior — let’s take a moment to focus on the delivery of everyday education within the classroom.
Teachers, not principals or superintendents and their highly-paid support staff, have the most important role in the school. Not only do they have to teach the children about spelling, math, art and science, history and right now, but they have to do so as they themselves are constantly learning and adapting to new education standards. They have to do it as the very school districts children used to belong to are merged and moved.
And just like Ginger Rogers dancing backwards in heels, teachers have to make it all look easy. Imagine if every time a standardized test got changed, an education mandate came down from Washington or Montpelier, or a new acronym got introduced to the educationese dictionary the students in the classrooms had to adjust. They’d never learn.
But they do, and they learn in more ways than ever before. Forget reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. The increasingly vast availability of subjects for kids to study resembles the menu at a summertime snack bar.
Mix and match vocational studies and liberal arts classes? Check. Take college classes while still in high school? Check. There are 3D printers in the middle level classrooms now, and an iPad in every backpack.
One of the most promising confluences in education policy these days is that of proficiency-based learning and individualized education plans — that’s PBL and IEPs for the alphabet soup lovers.
Strip them of all the gobbledygook from which such terms emerge, and what you have is a highly-personalized education experience. Previously, it was thought only students with disabilities needed an individualized education plan, that it was what you got stuck with if your grades were suffering and you wanted to be able to play ball next season. Now, it’s for everybody.
A local school board representative early this year likened proficiency-based learning to watching a plant grow. As anyone who’s ever actually tracked their gardens’ growth knows, things grow at different rates.
Just as you’re not going to harvest it simply because the calendar says it’s time, teachers aren’t going to stop teaching every time a new educational acronym comes across their desk.
*PBL — Proficiency-based learning
IEP — Individualized education plan
SBAC — Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium
NCLB — No Child Left Behind
AYP — Adequate yearly progress
OMG — Ask your kids.