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Answer Sheet
Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 05/31/2011

Student: Why do I have to take a standardized test in Yearbook?

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This was written by sophomore Jack Eiselt, who attends Myers Park High School in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina. This year the district launched a new testing regime so that students take standardized tests in every subject so that all teachers can be evaluated based in part on the test scores of their students. Students in every grade helped field-test a total of 52 new tests this spring, kindergarteners included. This piece appeared in the Charlotte Observer.

By Jack Eiselt

Recently, as part of Pay for Performance, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has started making students in experiential classes take summative multiple choice exams. This cannot be justified for classes like Yearbook or Literary Magazine. I am on the school newspaper, the Hoofprint. The Hoofprint has won several awards and sends out seven, 16-page newspapers every school year. That could be four newspapers next year when we have to prepare for a test on information that in no way contributes to our product. Students in classes like these should be judged by the product they help create, not by testing them on information that does not add to the goal of the class.

CMS made this choice so it could judge any teacher’s performance on a standardized system. But this only makes the jobs of teachers of experiential classes more difficult.

Teaching to the test leads to the decline of creative thinking; these experiential classes let us express our talents and show our creativity. Students learn real-world skills that cannot be learned in other classes. On the newspaper staff, we learn how to meet deadlines and take on jobs we are expected to do. Yes, there are graded consequences for not meeting the terms of our jobs, but the greatest consequence is a reduced sense of being able to handle your assignment.

We would not experience this if a day-to-day lesson plan taught us random facts for a single test. Summative exams in experiential classes would only lessen our preparation for the world after high school. The real world is not learning large amounts of information to be tested once; it is fulfilling continuous duties to support a bigger idea. This is the epitome of Newspaper, Yearbook and Literary Magazine and this is what makes these classes enjoyable.

Experiential classes do not teach the way normal classes do. In fact, it should not even be called teaching. The teachers and advisers of these classes open their students’ minds to allow them to experience whatever they will be producing. Every day in the Hoofprint classroom on campus, we do not sit and listen to someone lecture while trying desperately to keep our eyes open. We ask what it is we have to do on any given day and we do it. The learning does not have to come from a lecture. The learning comes from experiencing it for ourselves. Instituting summative exams will not help in preserving this efficient learning method.

Trial and error was the original method for learning. The cavemen did not take a standardized test to see if they knew how to make fire. They just did it, and that is how experience works. This is why experiential classes have worked so efficiently for so long.

Math and science may require more dictation than other classes. However, if these classes were then put to the test through an experiential learning environment, rather than a summative exam, maybe we would not forget the things we learned within four months.

Experiential classes cannot come to this; they are the way they are for a reason: The learning method works. The things we learn in these classes are not something to forget over the summer, and we should not lose that to satisfy CMS’ need to assess teachers more efficiently.

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