Sunday, March 18, 2012

Beyond Mastery Kids

With so much emphasis on testing and test scores and how student and teacher performance can be (and should be, according to so many) measured by numbers, I just can't help thinking more and more about the students I've had whose successes cannot be assessed in any standardized way. That's not to say that I disagree with the idea theoretically; in theory, in ideal circumstances, we could sit every child down after they've each arrived at school safely, unthreatened and unharmed, after each has had a healthy breakfast, has slept full eight hours in a bed in a safe home, and hasn't suffered any psyche-damaging experiences at the hands of families or strangers, after each has been raised since birth without poverty or hunger or distress, after each, in theory, has had a childhood that puts him on a level playing field with every other child his age. We could then test each student in his first language, using culturally-appropriate prompts that he understands based on his knowledge and experience. I don't need to explain what does happen, instead.

Those tests, and perhaps even the common assessments we use within our grade levels, departments, schools, and districts, often miss the student that I call the "beyond mastery kid." (This is why, hopefully, we offer several kinds of common assessments, that measure several kinds of learning.) This student is atypical by nature, so that right there reduces the chances of a standardized assessment measuring her achievements accurately. But as we do as students, who remember our favorite teachers not for their prowess in academics or methodology, necessarily, we also remember our beyond mastery kids for so much more than their test scores.

We remember the kid who loved learning about his hometown and produced an oral history that is now housed at the local library. We remember the student who excelled on stage, in the band room, or in the art room who now returns periodically as an artist-in-residence or guest performer. We remember the child whose intense concern for others morphed into her involvement with Special Olympics. The kid who bred new species of fish. The kid who wired his bedroom for internet before internet was available. The kid who achieved in horseback riding, or marksmanship, or boatbuilding.

Like the immeasurable and unmeasurable successes that teachers have in the classroom, our students' beyond-the-test successes are valuable, meaningful, and incredibly valid. I wish we could measure them in some way. But the true measure is in the memory. We'll never forget our beyond mastery kids.

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