Susick Elementary, part of Warren Consolidated Schools, just received a $3,672 grant award from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
And a core group of fourth-grade students will be taking Susick's partnership with the Michigan Opera Theater to the next level by creating and performing an original opera of their own during the rest of this school year with the help of teaching artists from the MOT.
Unfortunately, the rest of this school year also brings the M-Step test, which fourth graders will begin taking in April.
When I gave the good news about the grant award to our fourth-grade teachers, they hesitated. These three excellent teachers want to give students the kind of rich cultural opportunities MCACA funds.
The fact that they were uncertain about saying "yes" to the project speaks volumes, and this is why: They were scared. Scared of "The Test," scared of the consequences of redirected instructional time, scared of the capriciousness of it all.
The teachers didn't want to decline the grant award. They knew it was a great way to meet Common Core state standards and they fully understood how this experience could improve student achievement, but they feared this new test wouldn't accurately measure these improvements.
I was seeing firsthand how testing can narrow education by crowding out the extras like music, theater, and opera, that really shouldn't be extra at all.
Our school, like all others in Michigan, will be publicly judged by students' performance on the M-Step test, an assessment that is new this year and will change again next year.
I began planning and writing the grant application for our project with the MOT long before we had any information about this spring's M-Step.
We teachers hold our students and ourselves to high standards and we welcome the rigorous expectations of the Common Core, but we resent our school being judged by a single test. We're careful to use multiple measures when we assess our students, and when we do, we often uncover a much more complex picture of our students than a single evaluation would have given us.
We'd like our school to be evaluated with the same kind of care and comprehensiveness.
Thankfully, Susick Elementary's fourth grade teachers eventually decided, in spite of their test fears, to participate in the project with the MOT. The students in Rikki Mutter's class are busily writing an original opera that will incorporate science concepts as well as Common Core State Standards for language arts.
We thank our representatives in Lansing for supporting the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, but please know that the best way Lansing can support the kinds of valuable projects that the MCACA funds is to put a stop to arbitrary, poorly-planned testing.
America Achieves Fellow,
English language acquisition teacher,
Susick Elementary, Warren Consolidated