This morning as I was weeding my garden, it occurred to me that the mint that had overrun my herb garden was like standardized test prep. As schools across the country do their best to prepare students for the new CCSS-aligned assessments, test prep is running rampant. Just as the mint in my garden has choked out the basil and parsley, test prep, and the tests themselves, threaten to take over the school day, leaving no time to savor novels, delve into a character’s motivation, or write a deeply personal narrative.
I grow a variety of herbs in my garden because each herb has its own distinct flavor and use. The amount of the herb I use depends on what I’m cooking. The same is true for teaching. We have a wide variety of instructional resources and strategies available. As professionals, we take great care to make thoughtful decisions about which resource or strategy will best meet the needs of our students.
We have to nurture our students so they’ll become independent thinkers and problem solvers. If they are going “build strong content knowledge,” “comprehend as well as critique,” and “value evidence,” all specific goals named in the Common Core State Standards, they have to read and write all kinds of literature and informational texts. As Grant Wiggins wisely points out, “the test is not what you should be practicing; meeting the standards is what you should be practicing.” Providing students with a steady diet of random passages and multiple-choice questions, like those shared by Vicki Vinton on her blog, To Make a Prairie, will do nothing to encourage a student’s curiosity or creativity. We can only do that by providing our students with the rich, robust learning opportunities they deserve.
The mint from my garden adds wonderful notes of flavor to many dishes when I use it appropriately and judiciously. But a steady diet of mint where it doesn’t belong will turn anyone off to its delights. Let’s not turn our students off to the joys of a literate life by overwhelming them with test prep.