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Calling conversations that matter: Superintendent Matt Grose shines a light on standardized testing

sprig by Posted in Rural Capacity Building, Vibrant Rural

Matt Grose is a core team member for the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success. Here he is at the November 2014 IAISS community convening.

You have to do it yourself, but you don’t have to do it alone. We use this mantra in all of our leadership programs because if we’ve learned one thing in our nearly 75 years working with rural leaders it’s this — leadership isn’t a one-person show. The true test of a leader isn’t in how loud they can make their voice boom, but in how they can bring people together, under a shared vision, to make real change happen.

But sometimes to bring people together, there needs to be a spark. Something that jolts, that energizes.

We saw such a spark last week in our local paper. In a Grand Rapids Herald Review opinion piece, Deer River Public Schools Superintendent Matt Grose called attention to the obstacles created and exacerbated by standardized testing. Spurred by a sudden suspension of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment testing, his commentary  zeroed in on how society’s insatiable hunger for teacher accountability, accomplished through the taking of one test, is unrealistic and obtrusive.

Neither I nor my staff fear accountability. In fact, my teachers hold themselves to higher standards of care than any test could measure. I would argue, however, that spending $33.8 million on testing isn’t being accountable with our money as a state. I would argue that having 5th graders take tests in Reading, Math, and Science within the same testing season isn’t being accountable to them or their parents. I would argue that testing every child when we could use scientific sampling to measure school progress isn’t being accountable to intelligent use of time. I would argue that having to suspend teaching, cancel field trips, and reserve most of April for testing isn’t being accountable to our responsibility to provide learning opportunities. What we need is a system that provides measurement in a way that is fair, accurate, and unobtrusive.

Agree or disagree — this is leadership.

It calls a conversation. It invites reflection. It does not cast stones, but offers an opening for our communities, our state, to begin thinking about new possibilities, to question “What if?”

This article was not an echo of just one person’s voice, but countless teachers, students, parents, and community members. But someone’s name had to be attached. Someone needed to be the spark.

You have to do it yourself, but you don’t have to do it alone.

It’s sparks like these that make our home communities — and communities all across rural Minnesota — vibrant.




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