[Susan notes: This is a fine, thoughtful letter. We would all do well to read it carefully. And then read it again.]
Submitted to Boston Globe but not published
After reading your response to the students who wrote in about the MCAS, I offer some thoughts:
Sometimes we have to read between the lines with teenagers and sometimes we have to listen very carefully, because they may be saying something new which we think we understand but are missing because it really is new.
When kids write that it's not fair to test them on poems or other literature that they haven't read, they may really be thinking that what is NOT being tested is the issue - that they're being tested on things they have not studied, but also that they know a great deal which doesn't count on MCAS -- and that this is simply unfair because it makes them look dumb when they aren't.
The MCAS puts a great value on fiction and poetry -- these are actually not a very good measure of intelligence, aptitude or skills. It's fine for people to love literature, but it's not a good measure of education for everyone, and perhaps especially not for boys. Our teens are learning so much these days - and we elders really have to start thinking about how much they are learning which is replacing some of the classical content and also some of the classical skills.
I also think that stress is a huge issue for teenagers, and that the amount of testing in schools is staggering - way beyond what you might realize. My school spends almost 2 months in one form or another of test prep, testing, and standardized tests- and it takes away the interest, fun, ability to grow which make school seem valuable -- thus we lose HALF our students along the way at my school.
When you add in the continual scolding and 'motivational' speeches we give the kids from grade 3 on, with the constant threat that 'you won't graduate if...' coming from teachers, administrators, and to some extent fearful families, the overwhelming negativity of adolescence becomes intolerable.
Schools and education are not going to work - especially for those from educationally disadvantaged families - if they are seem primarily punitive. You cannot take your own experience, or mine, and generalize to kids of today. You have to actually listen to what they have to say - both explicitly and between the lines, Judith Baker, 34 year veteran of BPS, Madison Park