So many years in education, so many stories. I know many children and the history that comes along with them. These stories, these kids…they are heartbreaking, by also my inspiration.
I know a child who comes to school so sleepy each morning, and has to nap before he can learn.
I know a child who begins to get anxious each Friday afternoon about the school forgetting to give her a food backpack for the weekend.
I know a child who came to school in the same clothes he wore the day before, and the day before that.
I know a child who had to leave her sick mother each morning to come to school, and worried if she would still be alive when she returned home.
I know a child with parents who are continually fighting each other with much hate, and she is caught in the middle.
I know a child who worries about her daddy because he is depolyed and in the line of fire each day.
I know a child who stays home by himself until late in the night, and must find a way to eat, and reads bedtime stories to himself.
I know a child who cared for three younger siblings each morning and each evening, providing their meal, baths, clean clothes, and tended to them when they are sick.
I know a child who experienced severe abuse and flinches anytime someone comes near her.
I know a child who had to get additional food from our pantry because the rats ate what we sent home with him, while he was sleeping.
I know a child who missed so much school because she had to care for her baby sister when adults were unavailable.
I know a child who lost his dad to a terrible disease, and just doesn’t understand why.
I know a child who has been exchanged back and forth between several family members, but hasn’t felt loved or valued by any of them.
I know a child who once ate the same food as the family’s dog, because she was locked in the kennel with it for many hours at a time.
I know a child who communicated through hitting others, because it was the norm in her world. It is all he knew to do at the time.
I know a child who stated often that she wished she was dead because no one would miss her anyway.
I know a child who served as a lookout for her parents, who worked out back in their meth lab.
I know a child who…
The stories could go on and on. I know so many kids…
Every child has a story, no matter where they live, what the makeup of their family is, or how much money their family has. There are kids from all places in life who struggle in school to focus on learning, because they have much bigger priorties in their world. I struggle with the reality in education of our children being represented by a number and percentile ranking on a standardized test, because no one can look at that one measurement and know much of anything about them. We place so much stock into one number. I can only imagine what our world would be like if adults had to experience that. The kids I know…some of them can tackle a standardized test with ease. Many kids I know will come in on test day already worried about what they will eat for dinner, where they will sleep, if their parents will fight all night again, or if their mom will ever come back. Some kids just come in sleepy, or they have had an off morning, yet we must make them take a test they are not prepared for, and be judged on their performance of it.
We are required to make very big decisions about our kids based on students’ test scores. Overall district and state scores drive the decisions being made in education, but what do those scores really mean? One test. One number. One side of a child. Educators know how unfair this is to children, and how unfair it is to edcuators who care for the whole child on a daily basis. Educators in schools see the heartbreak and the potential in every child, and they use what they know to invest in each one. Those investments never show up on a required state or national exam. There are some who will call these stories excuses, but they are so far from that. They are the realites of many children who come to our schools each day for safety, security, basic needs, and love. We give them those things first and foremost so their brains can abandon survival mode for even a few moments and hopefully learn something that will make them stronger.
I know many kids who will succeed in spite of their standardized test scores, no matter how low or high they are. A number cannnot define a child, even if the number each year is not up to expectations set by people who are probably not working with kids on a daily basis. There are actions we can take in order to increase test scores, such as altering instruction, teaching things we know will be on the test but are not necessary for kids to learn, assessing our kids often in a formal situation while taking away valuable time for authentic learning experiences, altering our intervention and enrichment times to teach test preparation, etc. Do children need exposure to what they will see? Of course they do. Can I sacrifice more than a small percentage of time for this cause? I simply cannot.
When we begin to provide more for all kids…more depth, more enrichment, more authentic learning situations, more connected content, more student choice and voice, MORE of what truly matters…we will see that numbers will naturally increase. When we react to low scores by implemening surface activities and programs, we are increasing kids’ ability to perform better on the test, but we are sacrificing all that truly matters in our efforts to educate the whole child.
We are preparing kids for careers that do not exist in our world today, which means we must teach and model the correct mindset and skills they will need in order to apply them to a life we cannot fathom. The kids I know need to have knowledge of and demonstrate…
- a growth mindset
- embracing failure as learning
- how to connect and collaborate
- how to seek knowledge from credible sources
- executive functioning skills
- Critical thinking/problem solving
- Multiple ways to approach an issue
Kids do need to learn content in school, but they can’t learn it and be assessed on it the way we have always taught and measured learning. We must use the skills above as our filter for all we do and provide for kids. No traditional standardized assessment will ever help educators better prepare kids for the future they will face. No score will ever provide kids with feedback to better prepare themselves for what lies ahead. There has to be another way. Our kids deserve it!
In the meantime, let’s teach our kids…all of them…and the whole child within each of them! Kids who have passionate educators year after year have more opportunities to find success. Continue to invest and love them. Use the data for the information it can offer us, because we can glean some things from it! I choose to take a positive approach and never forget that one number means nothing when all sides of a child are not included in the data. Noneducators will struggle to understand this, so it will be up to us to explain it to them. We, along with our kids, will be judged for the numbers published on websites and in newspapers, but we know the faces behind the numbers. We know the kids’ stories, and we know what potential lies within each treasure that families send to us. We will keep our eyes on our prize…the kids we inspire and support each day!