(144) Wolves and Testing

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I don’t want to write about this today, but it seems to be preying on my mind.

Yesterday I watched this video about “How Wolves Change Rivers.”  It is a beautiful story of how the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1995 created a series of healing changes to the environment. The deer started new patterns, which enabled the vegetation to regenerate, which created a better ecology for other species to survive and for the rivers to have stronger borders, enabling the beavers to do their wonderful work, which eventually changed the rivers.  (The video is posted at the end of this blog)

My first thought — this explains climate change, and how we can reverse it if we are to make a few changes.  We are all interdependent; everyone and everything depends on something else.  If we make better choices, we can change things. After all, it was the meddling of humans that destroyed the wolf population to start. Undoing that mistake has created wondrous changes, as nature responds.

Then I thought of the introduction of high-stakes standardized testing to education. I immediately could see the domino destructive reaction it brought. In a relatively short period of time, our schools have gone from places of learning and life skill building to test prep factories.  The only things that began to matter is what could be tested: reading, writing, math, science. Little by little the stakes grew. Little by little districts put policies in place that destroyed students’ opportunity for a well-rounded education.

The high stakes of testing has got to be eliminated. Yearly testing of everyone has to go as well. Grade span testing perhaps, for diagnostic, NOT placement or retention or firing teachers. Eliminate the high stakes and teachers can take risks again. Principals could be free to offer classes that would help young people thrive: music, art, projects, home economics, shop — all the things that have systematically been eliminated as the stakes grew.

Just like with the wolves, this was a man-made mess. If we could eliminate the high stakes, much of our educational ecology could get healthy again. This is to the benefit of all. It shouldn’t just be the wish of educators. Our country could benefit as well.

Let’s take a lesson from our mistakes with the wolves. Let’s heal our educational system.

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