“Rethinking our classrooms requires teachers to be activists, requires us to defend our right to engage students in a rich curriculum that promotes academic achievement and social justice.”
Rethinking Our Classrooms, Volume 2
It’s Sunday and I’m excited to go to class tomorrow night. Yep, that’s right, I’m totally excited for SCHOOL. I usually am, but maybe it’s because class was cancelled last Monday that I’m a little over-the-top pumped. Or maybe I’m just really excited to finally discuss tracking and standardized testing and see what the group facilitating the discussion has in store for the rest of us.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I completed the readings for the tracking/standardized testing discussion, so I just went back and reviewed them, looking over the notes I’d left for myself in the margins. Next to the above quote, which I had emphatically underlined, I had written in the margin, “LOVE.” I’m reading it over and over again, like a mantra, and I’ve decided it’ll be my mission statement. The quote is intended as an introduction to the section, “Rethinking Assessment” so that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, both unconsciously and plain ol’ forcing myself to sit here and write it out.
I was tracked. I took many standardized tests, whether they were chapter tests given by my teachers or state tests proctored by those same teachers. I was tracked on honors/AP classes and I always did fairly well on those tests. In short, the system worked for me. And I didn’t question it because, well, I was a beneficiary of it and also, no one else questioned it. Not my fellow classmates, not my teachers. Even in fourth grade, I can remember being part of a “reading group,” and it was clear which one was the “able” reading group and which one was the “remedial” reading group. I don’t think there was ever any cruelty displayed to the students in the “remedial” reading group, it was simply generally acknowledged and accepted that they were “not that smart.” It never occurred to me as a child to question whether this was fair, or just, or even basically kind to think of other people this way. But I did it, and I wasn’t the only one. We knew, even then, there were the kids who would do well in fourth grade, in tenth grade, in college, and become respected professionals with a say in the world, with power. And we knew there were the kids who would, in some way, shape, or form, answer to us. I didn’t hate it then because I didn’t know how to. But I know how to now and I am capable of pointing to this system and saying that it cheats way too many of our students out of a fair and exceptional education.
I’ve heard the argument before that arguing against tracking implies a derogatory view of vocational schooling and careers. I give this argument some credence, because there certainly is an existing viewpoint that being a doctor is more respectable than being a vehicle mechanic. However, I have to ask: When our schools and teachers explicitly and implicitly tell some students they are smarter than others, doesn’t it create that viewpoint that doctors are more respectable than vehicle mechanics? Aren’t we creating that divide between our students by segregating the “able” from the “remedial” and then presenting one group with engaging, challenging, hands-on curriculum while spoon-feeding the other work that may suit their “ability level” but certainly not their intellectual capacity?
I realize it’ll take more than public schools untracking their classrooms. Colleges and universities and their admittance policies also have to change so we can stop pressuring all of our students to adhere to a shallow version of intellectual ability and capacity and educational success.
There are more important things than doing well on a test. Being able to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds with respect, kindness, and empathy and engage in critical discussions seems to be one of those important things. I don’t think you can measure that on a multiple-choice test.