Friday, May 3, 2013

If Only

I think I've mentioned how the writing club kids like to give each other prompts when we meet. I'm sure part of the appeal is being allowed to write on the white board, and most of the time the assignments are so silly that it is kind of challenging to get anything on paper in the 5-10 minutes we allow. (But... I guess our students might say the same thing for many of the tasks we set for them.)

Really, though-- Write about pandas and turtle cup cakes? The Bermuda triangle, without pickles? Using the words, "before", "daffodil", "cocoa puffs", "converse" and "soccer"? You see what I mean, but let me tell you, those kids put out some crazy good writing on that kind of dare.

Yesterday, though, someone posted the following challenge: Write three paragraphs arguing against standardized tests, and it wasn't either one of us teachers.

Trying to remain neutral, I asked the assembled students what their objections to these tests were. "I'll scribe," I volunteered. "You talk."

"They're not fun!" someone started, rather predictably.

"It's boring," another student added.

We adults shrugged sympathetically. "What else?" I asked.

"Well," one kid started earnestly, "all that review cuts away from learning new things."

"And they create a lot of stress!" the girl to his right chimed in.

"Stress? Why? None of you guys are going to fail," I said, because it was true.

"All those signs everywhere about how many days until the test can really freak you out," she told me. "And what about the announcements?" she continued.

"SOL Boot Camp! SOL Boot Camp" they all started to chant.

"What is that even about?" she asked.

"One of our teachers told us that how we do can affect the economy," a boy said. "Test scores impact property values."

"One of your teachers told you that?" I repeated, a little incredulously.

"He was just being honest," the student answered, "but the tests aren't a fair way to evaluate you guys either. I mean you can't control how every single student is going to do on them, right?"

More shrugs from the teachers.

"Okay. Do we have enough?" asked the student who had posed the prompt. "Let's write a letter to the school board and get rid of these tests!"

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