Response to the letter, ‘Five Town CSD’s dismal results from benchmark tests’

Wed, 05/10/2023 - 6:45pm

Though I am also disappointed in the results of our students on the English, writing and math benchmarks on the PSATs, I disagree with Mr. Beitler about the causes and solutions.

In 1994, Maine’s fourth graders tested first in the nation on the National Assessments of Educational Progress (NAEPs). Now, their results rank Maine’s fourth grade students below 34th in the nation in reading and 39th in math. What forces have bought about this precipitous decline?

In my dissertation, “Working Memory: the influence of Culture on Aspirations,” a case study of four Maine schools, and my subsequent work for the Rural School and Community Trust and KnowlegeWorks Foundation, I found that school consolidation, reliance on testing, and the lack of opportunity for students to be active and accountable participants in their communities were primary causes of such declines.

We learn best if we are engaged. Engagement does not occur when learning is boring, has little obvious connection with our lives or interests and seems meaningless.

It can occur when learning supports our interests and gives us a way to understand that we must read and compute well in order to pursue those interests. Project and placed based education as well as experiential learning promote this kind of engagement.

Education should not be a grindstone against which we hold our teachers and their students, but a way to follow the root of the word education: educere: to lead out. 

Focus on the core skills, yes; but do so in a way that invites students to learn them by doing in projects at the Hatchery, field trips, independent study, and the many ways that will engage not disengage them.

Barbara Kent Lawrence, Ed.D., lives in Camden