Paulo Freire Freedom School – University received an “A” rating from the state of Arizona this year! I can’t say that we aren’t happy. It is gratifying to have our hard work pay off, especially since in our case it represents working with a diverse population of students who come to us with a wide array of academic skills and learning profiles. We are immensely proud of the way our staff works together to make sure that all students are learning – we simply don’t allow kids to choose to fail – they aren’t mature enough to understand the ramifications of that decision. So we look to find students hiding from their academic work during classes, at lunch, before school, after school, whenever to give them whatever support they need, but still hold them accountable for learning. Yay for us!
At the same time, as we have said all along, school ratings based on standardized testing only provide a partial picture of what our students know and can do. We are a school that implements project based learning and emphasizes 21st century skills (which we call habits of heart and mind) so much of what we teach and our kids practice are not reflected in that school letter grade. I believe that the more full expression of our students’ learning is demonstrated during their Student Exhibitions when they publicly present their learning products. These performance assessments – be they a Holocaust Museum, a Probability Casino Night, a Renaissance or Science Fair or a Tucson Initiative Information Forum – display the results of in depth research and critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, problem solving and practice in designing and rehearsing a professional presentation. Watching our students rise to the demands of this work is when I feel most proud of them and our school.
Many critics of standardized testing have written about the danger of the narrowing of curriculum. With such high stakes attached to the grades (competition for students, teacher merit pay, even the threat of school closure) many schools fashion their curriculum to mirror the tasks assessed on standardized tests. We have rejected this strategy choosing instead to teach in the way that we believe will most benefit our kids. While not certain to maximize our standardized test scores, we do believe that strong project based learning will lead to at least respectable scores. It is nice to do what is right by our students and have it pay off.