Implementing standards in the classroom doesn't necessarily translate into teaching to the test. One teacher has found ways to ensure that students do well on high-stakes writing tests and become lifelong learners.
Education policymakers tend to focus on the big picture of school reform, often through the lens of students' standardized test scores. Although this viewpoint is important for school reform efforts, it often ignores the teachers who develop communities where authentic learning takes place. In such learning communities, students discover knowledge for themselves, make mistakes, help one another learn, and venture into new intellectual and emotional territories. Parker Palmer calls this "creating the space where the community of truth is practiced," where participants have opportunities to learn about themselves and to build relationships with others (1993, p. xii). Without these communities, teaching and learning are reduced to technique, and students' scores are little more than numbers on a page. During the 1998–99 and 1999–2000 school years, a team of researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, visited schools in Washington State to understand more clearly how such classroom communities are created and sustained during a large-scale school reform effort.
One Child at a Time
Washington State's 1993 Education Reform Act mandated the creation of academic standards, called the Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EARLs), which are accompanied by a testing system entitled the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). The state administers the test each spring to 4th, 7th, and 10th graders to assess student abilities in mathematics, listening, reading, and writing. Science is being added on a voluntary basis.