Board members must rage against the (state) system

It was heartening to hear the debate among the candidates for the nomination to the Avon Grove School Board in spite of the fact that three of them didn’t participate.

They presented themselves as intelligent people who had the wellbeing of the students in their hearts.

The message came across loud and clear that they all wanted to provide a quality education with wise spending of taxes.

No one can dispute that a “quality education” is of value.

Likewise, it is obvious that no one wants higher property taxes going to the school district unless it is absolutely necessary.

At this point, however, we have questions for the present and future school board members:

What do they mean by “quality education”?

Are they willing to take on the challenge of facing up to the state’s unreasonable stranglehold on curriculum and mandated programs?

Too often during the debates we heard reference to test scores, school rankings and graduation rates.

Those reference points are merely numbers, and in many cases don’t accurately reflect how graduates of the institution will succeed in life.

Additionally, the reference points don’t take into account measuring the achievement and abilities of those who are good at art, music, physical education, social studies and vocational skills.

Successful graduates have emerged from the humblest of high schools, irrespective of their rankings in popular magazines.

And even if students achieve high scores enough to nudge their school to a high point on the high school rankings, it does not mean that those kids will be successful adults.

Consider this: Every now and then, a class of not-so-bright kids moves through the grades, and no amount of testing, tutoring or homework can make them bright.

That’s not the fault of the school and nothing but teaching to the test or cheating can raise the scores. The funny thing is, a lot of those students will make out just fine in life without being able to do algebra.

Overall, it leads us to wonder who is making these laws that schools must follow a mandated curriculum and must achieve ever higher scores annually.

We were heartened a few years ago when state Rep. Chris Ross -- a Harvard graduate -- told a group of people that it didn’t seem fair to him that kids who speak a language other than English were not permitted to get help with their PSSA tests. He told his audience that he could not do well on the tests if the instructions were in a foreign language.

That’s just one example of the inadequacy of the state testing.

Recently, there have been published reports of frustration on the part of teachers that there is pressure on their to “teach to the test” -- or more politely, to stay close to the state mandated curriculum.

That certainly bodes ill for budding artists, professional athletes, concert pianists, biologists, auto mechanics and plumbers.

We urge the people who will fill those new slots on the board to become politically active and wage war on the state testing and curriculum requirements. We hope they will consider the needs of the kids who go to Avon Grove -- not the whole state of Pennsylvania.

Let them be brave in declaring that the emperor who would turn the school’s ranking into a number has no clothes.

Show your courage, school board members. Don’t let Harrisburg rest until they let the schools tailor their teaching to their own students. Let the schools nurture those whose talents lie outside the narrow bands of math and English exam scores.

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