Today when Anna (not her real name) came into class, she was not her usual happy, interested self. As her friends talked about what High Schools they had been accepted to, Anna looked unusually miserable. When I called her out in to the doorway to talk to her, I found out why: Anna had been "denied" acceptance to all the high schools she had applied to. (See note) Anna felt lost, unhappy, and was truly down on herself. I did the best I could to comfort her in the moment, my heart was breaking a little and I got angrier as the day wore on. WHY should this great kid feel like a failure at 13?
Some things you should know about Anna--every teacher in my K-8 school that has ever taught Anna misses her, loved having her in class, and asks about her. People will just say to the 8th grade teachers, "How is Anna?", "Oh, I do miss Anna in my room.", "I just loved Anna". Anna is one of those kids who has a sunny personality, is a great problem-solver, is creative and hardworking, interested in learning, a deep thinker, and gets along well with pretty much every body. Yes, Anna is THAT student: the one everybody likes, the one both fellow students and teachers look forward to working with--she is not a teacher's pet....she is just an all round good kid. SHE is the one who will be able to lead a group to get a project done. So, you might be thinking, what DOESN'T Anna have? Well she does not have "advanced" high-stakes test scores, Anna is merely "proficient". And, at many of Philadelphia's selection high schools, proficient is not good enough.
The interesting thing is, that if I had to choose a kid to run a team or be in charge of a project, there are plenty of my "advanced" students I would not give that responsibility to. I would give it to Anna in a minute. But, high-stakes norm-referenced or standardized tests do not really test the "real-world" skills that education reformers are always blathering on about. High-stakes tests simply measure the ability to take tests--a skill that has a very short half-life in the real world.
High-stakes tests make kids feel like failures--that is wrong.
Anna deserves more. ALL our students deserve more.
Note: In Philadelphia, students apply to various selection high schools--if they are not accepted, they have a place at their neighborhood high school which are purposely under-resourced by the SDP.