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Get ready - it’s that time again


Mary Jane Owen

  Our teachers, administrators and students will be returning from Spring break very soon if they have not already. I hope they got rested and enjoyed the break because the time is about here when they are ALL going to be tested. Yes, ‘tis the season for which they have all prepared throughout the year. Never mind that things other than “assessments’ have been going on like reading, writing, and “ciphering.” The intended target has been and likely will remain focused every day for almost every waking minute in preparation for whatever standardized test students are expected to take and pass. That includes the CRCT, and the “graduation” tests among others. Woe be it unto any of the above mentioned school folks, teachers, administers and kids if good scores are not posted. Failure can invite a fate that is scary. Consider the humiliation that the Atlanta Public School system has endured and the disservice that has been done to children, all in the service of making the system look better than it was. It sickens me as a retired educator to think of the ruined lives and I do hope that those who created the environment which encouraged wrongdoing are punished.

  Let me make clear several things as I put forth my opinions. I do not believe for one minute that any Henry County public educator is capable of, or guilty of cheating. While I have been out of the profession for a few months, I logged in over forty years in four different school systems. In the last twenty years of my career, my primary job was to know, and to share with my colleagues, as best I could, how authentic learning occurs. I think I can claim reasonable knowledge about the subject.

  I strongly support the notion that high educational standards should be expected and met. What concerns me is that in the current testing environment, we have narrowed the curriculum (the content, what is taught) to the extent that good stuff can and often is over-looked in an effort to “cover” the standards. Fact is, there are so many standards that it is impossible for a teacher in a given content area to “cover’ them all. I guess they could get a shovel!  “Covering” ignores what we know about how students learn and hence eliminates some important stuff. Nonetheless, if educators are to keep their jobs, they must see to it that the standards are covered, limiting the opportunity to spend time on topics or problems that could benefit and possible even excite children. The expectation is that most teachers, for example in the third grade or in a freshman math class, are expected to all be “on the same page” - the same lesson - no matter what student differences might be. That alone scares me to death because I know  that every study known to humankind  indicates that learners are different. Duh! Standardization overlooks this important fact. Worse still in my mind is that kids often do not have time or the inclination to investigate information that fires their imagination and creativity. Heaven forbid.

  I’ll share an experience: I recall from my first year of teaching (yes, when the earth was cooling) I had a student with a compelling interest in knowing more than I was allowed to teach about Sigmund Freud. The system contention was that Freud was controversial. As students will, one of mine was determined to investigate Freud’s focus on dreams. Lausy me! I’d been warned NOT to do Freud at all! What was I to do here? In desperation I called the parents. The dad quickly assured me that not only was he excited about Tom’s interest, but that it was the ONLY thing in which he had shown any interest at all while in high school.  As parents, they were ecstatic and congratulated me on helping Tom to find something that was intellectually stimulating. I did not take credit and did not get fired, but it taught me a lesson, that by nature kids love to learn and they can and will when given the opportunity, freedom and resources. They likely will even excel.

  I’m sure you parents are aware of the importance of the next few weeks and that you are preparing your children by providing a good breakfast, encouraging  adequate sleep, and have urged your child to complete the requisite practice tests. The year has been spent teaching the test. Do what is expected, but please, please, think when you cast your next vote for your state decision makers. Ask of them questions about the need for this foolishness. Beg them to look for better ways that do not inhibit what comes naturally to young folks. Ask for serious, research based means of determining academic success. Do not harass our local Board of Education members and the local administrators. Dr. Hildreth and his staff are doing what they must. It is the responsibility of parents and interested citizens to expect lawmakers to seek alternatives that will enable the American children to regain the prominence that we once held which encouraged intellectual curiosity and resulted in excellence achieved without fear and intimidation. Now what, for heaven’s sake, is wrong with that?

   Mary Jane Owen is a veteran educator. She’s an avid Braves fan, reads, writes, and gardens.




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