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Can Teaching Around the Test Marry Creativity and Standards?

We talk a lot on this blog about whether our standardized test-based curriculum is detrimental to our students becoming creative thinkers. If you ask the British expat Sir Ken Robinson, the answer is an irrefutable "yes." And Newsweek's most recent cover story notes that American teachers believe that standards are coming at the expense of creativity via the arts or project-based learning.

In the article is the example of the National Inventors Hall of Fame School in Akron, Ohio, which actually uses a project-based curriculum to teach fifth grade kids about everything from "sound waves to per-unit cost calculations to the art of persuasive writing"—all of which are part of Ohio's standards.

Another example comes from the Wall Street Journal, which this week shines a light on Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood, New Jersey, which uses a curriculum inspired by Harvard developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, whose best known for his theory on multiple intelligences. The school operates on Gardener's belief that "in addition to teaching reading and math, schools should focus on how children interact with one another and express themselves through nature, art and movement."

Thus, the students maintain a garden, brings in instructors to teach the arts, and discusses student behavior (rather than punishing it). You could appropriately call it "progressive."

You could also say that it might be working:

In 1999, more than 80% of students at Seth Boyden were minorities. Its fourth-grade literacy and math scores were the lowest in the district—about 33%, 18% lower than the district average. Although the tests have changed and cannot be compared directly, in the 2008-09 school year 68% of fourth-graders were proficient or advanced in language arts and 65% were proficient or advanced in math, compared to 75% and 77% of fourth-graders in the district. Black and Hispanic children still make up about 70% of Seth Boyden.

There have been complaints that coming from this type of curriculum doesn't properly prepare students for standards-obsessed middle schools and high schools. But, what would happen if the schools these kids matriculated into were similarly structured?

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