Are we grading the right tests?

Published 1:05 am Friday, September 23, 2011

When it comes to education, how should the community measure success?

In a day and age when the average person will end up following several careers in a lifetime, is it the retention of facts and figures that is important or is there something else?

It is a wonder that I ever got my first job as an architect. The firm that hired me right out of college must have been desperate, because I didn’t know a thing about working in an architectural office.

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I had a diploma from an accredited architecture school that said I was prepared to go out in the real word.

Yet, it didn’t take very many days of staring at the computer screen and talking with my superiors to know that there was much more that I did not know than that I did.

“Forget what you learned in school. Now the real studying begins,” a colleague of mine once told me as he dumped a set of 100 drawings on my desk for me to review.

It’s a common refrain in the workplace. Nothing counts like real-world experience.

Now, 20 years after those first-job jitters, I still do not regret the five years I spent listening to lectures, pulling all-nighters and presenting projects in architecture school. This comes from a guy who seemingly threw away an architectural career for another in photography and writing.

The hand-drafting class of my college days now is obsolete, yet the classes that taught me how to learn, think on my feet, listen creatively and work as a team are more important than ever.

It’s not very different from the life lessons I learned in elementary school. I may not have “worked well with others” from time to time, but I did exceptionally well in the categories of “works independently” and “cooperates in the cafeteria.” At least that is what my fourth-grade report card from 1978 says.

In those days, attitude and work habits were important enough to be graded. Maybe on the local level they still are.

But in the eyes of the state, only the retention of facts and the ability to process information is graded by standardized tests. The ability to be a creative, thinking and respectful citizen in the community is not.

Too often area employers complain about the lack of work skills in the area workforce. Horror stories include, job applicants who wear inappropriate clothing to interviews, use inappropriate language with customers and show disrespect to their superiors. Others include employees who do not show up on time or who decide to take off time with zero notice.

Monday evening, the Natchez-Adams Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee met with a group of community leaders to discuss how to improve the public schools.

A wide-ranging conversation followed. The importance of neighborhood schools, the effect of poverty, the aging of school buildings and the use of education as an economic development tool were just a few of the topics discussed. Community members briefly touched on the issue of work ethic and the importance of not just being 4.0 students but also being contributors to society and the workplace.

At times it may have appeared that Monday evening’s discussion was an opportunity to point out everything that is wrong with the Natchez-Adams School District.

Many leaders pointed out that they were products of the local schools and that many other students have successful careers.

Could it be that those who have succeeded not only learned the facts but also learned those intangibles that make creative, hard-working, responsible contributors to the community.

In addition to state scores, maybe there is another way to measure success in our schools.

Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540.