Teaching to the test is a classroom management practice that many consider unethical because it prevents students from fully understanding the subject matter at hand. It also threatens to zap all the fun out of learning, resulting in more students underperforming in school and increasing drop-out rates — just the opposite of what state and federal lawmakers and education officials seek to accomplish by raising test score standards.
That’s why so many are so concerned about what’s being referred to as high-stakes testing in New York and elsewhere across the U.S.
But faculty members in the Southold School District are rising to the challenges of the current environment; they’re staring high-stakes testing in the face and, in effect, saying, “I’ll raise you.”
Through the district’s 12,000-square-foot organic garden — enclosed by an untreated cedar fence adorned with student artwork — Southold students aren’t just learning about health, science and the arts, or how to manage money and operate a business, all while being stewards of the environment. They’re also having fun and becoming more interested in school and education in general.
Southold’s efforts were deservedly lauded last week by New York State Board of Regents member Roger Tilles. Mr. Tilles, who attended the district’s first School Garden Expo, called the school’s garden the most elaborate he’s visited. He also took the time to make the point that, in the end, such interactive programs result in better test scores and more engaged and educated students who, as educators and parents alike hope, are prepared for bigger things.
That’s because hands-on learning, not test-prep cramming, is the best way to inspire children. Given the long-term health benefits and the region’s agricultural heritage, it’s a no-brainer that other schools should follow Southold’s lead and develop gardening programs of their own. Perhaps in a few years, Mr. Tilles or other state officials could find themselves visiting a North Fork, or East End, or Suffolk County Schools Garden Expo.
The expo got things off to a good start, with organizations like Slow Food East End, Edible School Gardens, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Josh Levine Foundation setting up tables and offering information to promote school garden efforts.
Greenport and Oysterponds school officials also took part in the event; let’s hope we see more of their students’ work in the future.
Recognition also should be given to Southold farmers K.K. and Ira Haspel for helping the district create the school garden. Perhaps more farmers could step up to help other North Fork districts achieve the same degree of success.