Tag Archives: Young Minds

Are You Smarter Than A 10th-Grader?

No, it’s not a game show.

Instead, there’s been a lot of talk in education circles lately about the horrible fashion in which students and, by extension, principals and teachers are being judged. By the results of standardized tests of achievement.

That is, for you North Carolina residents, the End of Grade testing. Florida parents might know it as the FCAT, or Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. It’s a standardized test in which students bubble answers in on a separate sheet of paper, which then is run through a scantron to determine the score.

Personally, I don’t mind these sorts of things. I usually do pretty good at them. But I am something of an exception. There are some people for whom these tests are absolutely impossible. I’m talking about very smart individuals, but dudes and dudettes who don’t have the right wiring in their brain for these sorts of things.

Not to mention the poor kids who have ADD or ADHD and find it almost impossible to sit still and concentrate for the several hours these tests take. And if students don’t do all that well on these tests, then teachers and principals can be judged to have not done their work and might get pay cuts or be fired.

Not only do I hate that very idea, I think it’s appallingly unfair. If kids don’t pass these tests, they are not allowed to move on to the next grade. Which makes these tests astonishingly important and put all sorts of pressure on young minds not necessarily ready for that sort of problem.

And then there’s the whole issue of whether or not these tests can be culture-neutral so they aren’t biased against different segments of society. I used to think that last concern was a bit overhyped, but, after spending a year as a Title I Tutor at Huntingtowne Farms Elementary, I think it’s, if anything, underhyped.

There’s also a growing movement among people to have these tests scrapped because they don’t actually measure any useful knowledge. In an article by Marion Brady, a school board member talks about the results he received when he took a test meant for 10th graders.

“I won’t beat around the bush,” he wrote in an email. “The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.”

What’s worse, he continues, is that scores of that sort would have turned him away from the life he lives today, in which he holds multiple doctorates and other degrees, supervises thousands of employees and oversees a massively large budget.

“If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.” 

So I did what he did. The Washington Post linked to two seven-question sections from the FCAT. (Here’s a link to the reading test, and her’s a link to the math test.) I took them both. I scored perfectly on the reading and five out of seven on the math, mostly because I was careless on both the misses. I knew the procedure for finding the answer, but didn’t pay attention to what the question actually asked.

Which now makes me wonder about the school board member we talked about before. Still, I understand his point. In most jobs, you won’t have to know how to find the correct number of degrees in an angle, or interpret poetry. What I think he might be confusing is, these tests are supposed to be testing your ability to think, and finding the right answer is only part of the solution.

Unfortunately, all that matters is the right answer. Don’t get that, and you dudes are out on your ear.

This kind of pressure must be appalling to these kids. There must be some other way we can make sure the young dudes and dudettes in school are getting the education they need to learn to think well on their own, and measure that without these sorts of all-or-nothing tests.

Share on Facebook

Traditional Philosophy Helping Mold Young Minds

It was the second thing I noticed when I walked into her classroom. A big sign saying “I am who I am because of who we all are.”

Incidentally, the first thing I noticed when I walked into Mrs. C’s room at Awesome Elementary School, where I’m working as a reading tutor, was that the students didn’t have chairs and desks.Oh, they had desks and they were sitting down, but they didn’t have chairs. Instead, the students were sitting, balancing and gently bouncing on large Swiss exercise balls.

Because Mrs. C teaches a lot of kids with learning differences, she said she’s done some research about ways to keep the kids focused. She’s found that having the kids sitting on the balancing balls helps to burn off some of that excessive energy that can make teaching kids with ADD or ADHD or other learning disabilities such a drain on many teachers.

The kids, of course, love them. Except when they get carried away and start bouncing up and down on the Swiss balls like grasshopper on a sugar high. The threat of making them sit in normal chairs usually is enough to get them to settle down.

Despite having what seems to be a bit of a chaotic classroom, Mrs. C keeps things humming right along. She’s got the kids doing what needs to be done in a collaborative method. Heck, sometimes she even gives up the big desk to an especially hardworking student, sitting down elsewhere while the student works at her desk.

But this isn’t a story about how awesome Mrs. C is, or how she perfectly fits into the progressive traditional grove that is Awesome Elementary School (although she is, she does and it is). I want to talk, instead, about the philosophy that seems to drive her educational ideas. It’s called Ubuntu.

The dictionary definition of Ubuntu is quite dry, but illuminating: a quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity. When Mrs. C translates it into English, it gains a bit of poetic license. “I am who I am because of who we all are.”

“Originally,” she said, “it was a South African philosophy about interconnectedness and community. It became quite popular after apartheid was overturned. I love it. It says we cannot become successful alone, we cannot fail alone, we are all in this together. It also teaches about the acceptance of others and ourselves by seeing us all through a community lens.”

That’s what I love about this. It harkens back to Hilary Clinton’s go-to catchphrase: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Let’s try and leave politics out of this and look at it for what it is; a plea for involvement beyond your own narrow interests.

Sure we parents would like to think we’re the preeminent forces for moral growth in our little dudes and dudettes, but, if we’re being realistic, we need to understand that society has a massive impact on what our children believe and how they act. Which is why we need to act for the greater good, as well as our own good, because the two are very much intertwined.

We’re running a bit long here, so I’ll be back tomorrow with more from Mrs. C and Awesome Elementary School.

Share on Facebook

Paint The Town Read*

by Richard

Yesterday I got a great opportunity to see young minds in action. Well, all right, not quite in action. More like in relaxation from doing something that was action, or sitting passively while their minds and eyes worked a little. Okay, fine. Not action. They were getting a reward for doing a lot of reading, but I thought action sounded better. So sue me.

See, the deal is this. In Speed Racer’s elementary school, and at elementary schools throughout the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district, the little dudes and dudettes are encouraged to read and then take tests on what they read through a great system called Accelerated Reader. No matter the length of the book, the little dudes take no more than 10 questions.

At the beginning of each year, the kids in the class are evaluated and then given a point goal to reach during the year. They get x number of points for each book, depending on how difficult that book is to read. For instance, a Little Critter book might be worth .5 points, while a Harry Potter book might net you 20 points.

For the little dudes in Speed Racer’s elementary school, they are rewarded when they get to 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% of their goal, mostly with small stuff like a gift certificate to the school store or a homework pass. When they get to 75% they get to see skip first period and watch a movie (well, 30 minutes of a movie) and, when they reach their goal, they’re invited to a dance at the end of the year. Of course, the dance is during school or they’d never get boys to attend.

Anyway, yesterday was the second of two reward movies. This time around the great folks in charge wanted to show something the little dudes might find funnier than the last movie, The Amanda Show. So we got a Mythbusters episode. I have commented on the resemblance between me and one of the hosts before and I got to live up to that resemblance again yesterday.

Prior to the Mythbusters episode, I was introduced as Jamie Hyneman, one of the hosts. Now, the third graders bought it completely, hook, line and multitool. The fourth and fifth graders, not so much. Too many of them know me in my regular ID. Still, it was a nice chance to let almost 300 little dudes and dudettes know how much we, as parents and adults, appreciate their hard work.

*and, yes, I know that doesn’t really work. Still, the only sort of punne, or play on words, I could come up with on short notice.

Share on Facebook