While spending spring break in the hinterlands along the Georgia coast I was relegated to obtaining my news this week from the pages of the Florida Times-Union. One morning -- right on the front page -- I saw a sad, sad picture of former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall being escorted to jail -- for racketeering.
At first I couldn't figure out how a cheating scandal could lead to racketeering charges. Then I realized that she had been paid bonus money -- big bonus money at that -- for improving test scores in the Atlanta schools. She allegedly cheated -- and encouraged others to do so -- in order to collect the big bucks. Thus the indignity of her arrest. The Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. In education, at least, standardized test scores must run a close second.
Somebody somewhere has got to take a deep breath. Somebody somewhere has got to come far enough out of the trees to see the forest. Somebody has got to realize that there has to be a better way to evaluate the success of a student, a teacher, a classroom, a grade level, a principal, a school, a school system and, yes, a superintendent of schools than the almighty standardized test scores. Somebody has got to do that or public education is doomed. We can't afford that as a society.
Every student is a unique individual. Every student has different abilities, different skill sets and different interests. They come from different backgrounds and have different belief systems -- now more than ever before. And yet, because the federal government dictates that schools are successful or dismal failures based on conglomerate standardized test scores, local school systems the nation over are pressured to do everything humanly possible to achieve a certain level on those tests.
When an entity, such as a school, spends so much time and energy and effort and money on drilling for the end-all test at the end of the course, so many other worthwhile endeavors fall by the wayside and education becomes a shadow of its glorious self. Teachers turn to techniques that are most likely to result in the best test scores -- rote drill -- while abandoning many of the creative techniques that inspire students to want to learn, the vessels of creativity and wonder that made the teacher want to devote their lives to teaching in the first place.
But those teachers wanted to teach students, not standards.
Please do not hear something that I am not saying. I am not faulting any particular school or administrator or school system or school board. We all answer to a higher mandate. I am faulting that mandate. It is wrong. You can't judge a student or a teacher or a school by a score on a test. Period.
I became a teacher 40 years ago because of the impression my teachers made on me. They were my heroes and they still are. They opened windows for me to see through and doors for me to walk through. They enlightened me. They made me think. They made me see things many things in so many different lights. They made me want to know more about the subjects they taught and they taught me how to go about learning on my own the things they didn't get around to teaching me.
They cared about me as a person. They wouldn't allow me to be lazy. They were, for the most part, very stingy with praise because it didn't take any of them long to learn that a little bit of praise went way too far with me. They challenged me and they stayed on me and they made me, in great part, the person that I am today.
I am not in the least bit sorry that I chose education as my first career path. I have worked for good people and have had a blast. Hopefully I have helped some young people learn to think for themselves -- which should be the basis of all education -- and inspired them to be lifetime learners. If they happen to remember a little history along the way, then that is a bonus.
I am down to just a few more days in the classroom. I am stepping down, not because I am tired of teaching but because I just can't physically perform to my own standards any longer. For 45 minutes at a time I am as good as I once was. A school day is a lot longer than 45 minutes, however. A school day, for those who do it right -- is about 10 or 12 hours long. I can't do it right anymore.
But we started out talking about Beverly Hall. The new trend in education is to tie everyone's pay to the aforementioned test scores. Lunacy, as anyone who saw the photograph of Beverly Hall being led away to jail can readily understand.
Somebody, somewhere has got to stand up and say enough is enough -- because enough really is.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at email@example.com. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.