The Joy of Learning and of Thanksgiving

The Joy of Learning and of Thanksgiving

In the spirit of the holiday, let me give thanks to lcloud for sharing a link ( to the children's story I wrote about Thanksgiving. I hope everyone enjoys it and, more importantly, I hope it will help draw attention to the need to redouble our efforts to improve literacy in North Carolina.

There is another story just out that I hope will be widely read as well: the Blue Ribbon Commission on Testing and Accountability’s draft report criticizing the state’s testing regime. Here is the N&O’s first take on the report:

I’ve been worried for awhile about how the combination of ever-increasing state and federally-mandated testing may be harming both students and their teachers. As I said in my announcement statement over a year ago: When I was a volunteer schoolteacher, I started off each class with a poem – words that can inspire as well as instruct. As we demand student accountability, safety, and performance, we must not overlook the goal of instilling in every child an appreciation of the joy of learning and the gift of the mind. Engaged students in small classes led by skilled and valued teachers will improve the State’s graduation and college-entrance rates, and prepare our future workers to compete and win in the global economy.
I look forward to reading the Testing Commission’s full and final report, and to leading an effort as Lt. Governor to ensure that all students are prepared for work and college and citizenship, along with life’s joys and challenges, not just for end-of-year tests. By incorporating individual projects and essays into our assessment methods, we can give teachers the freedom to help each individual student learn in the way that works best for him or her.
North Carolina lags behind in reading proficiency scores. According to U.S. Department of Education data, 36% of North Carolina 4th Graders failed to reach a basic level of reading proficiency, ranking North Carolina 36th among the states. Fixing that problem is going to require a real, long-term commitment to improving our schools and expanding the pre-kindergarten programs that give children a real head start. And we need to focus not just on achieving basic reading skills, but also on acquiring informational literacy – the ability to acquire, evaluate, and use information effectively. (

We all have a role to play, which is why I hope you'll all take a moment to read a story—mine or someone else's—to a child this holiday season. It's fun, and as everyone from the State Board of Education ( to the International Reading Group ( confirms, it's important.

Happy reading and happy Thanksgiving!

Hampton Dellinger


Happy Thanksgiving, Hampton!

Thanks for the post. You certainly know your stuff about education. I was very happy to see your children's page. I hope that if you're elected you continue to reach out to NC's children and families that way. You can't go wrong focusing on early literacy and reading!

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

Here's to the end of end of year testing!

My daughter is an anxious kid with a 3.4 GPA - who happens to freeze in the presence of high-stakes tests. The testing regime has backfired so badly in her life that we had to take her out of public schools. She's now in a small school (of which I am a huge fan on principle) and is the happy person we all want our kids to be.

Thank you, Hampton

The state tests aren't comparable to what much of the rest of the country takes. North Carolina (Virginia and a few others) make up their own tests. The EOGs are doing a disservice to our students and so is the continued lowering of expectations.

I know federal money is important, but we need to accept the fact that some kids simply aren't going to test at grade level and we need to figure a way to address their needs instead of simply lowering our testing standards just to make them look better.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Lowering standards

North Carolina has not lowered our testing standards. Two years ago, DPI raised the math standards significantly to bring them into compliance with national norms. This caused thousands of previously "on grade level" students to fall below that standard. The reading scores will be similarly adjusted next year.

Also, for students who do not have the capacity to work on grade level because of learning or other disabilities, there are alternative assessments that are used to measure their knowledge and growth. I believe that all other students can learn at high levels and meet a reasonable grade level standard.

Accountability vs. Falling through the Cracks

Hampton- I commend your public interest in supporting education. Although it's the top issue on most voters' list, it receives far too little public attention from candidates and the media.

However, I feel progressive candidates have a lot of work to do on the testing and accountability issue. Most progressives fully support educational funding and policies that promote higher achievement by all students as well as strategies to close racial and other achievement gaps.

But most progressives also bash standardized testing.

As an educator and an advocate for students of color, I would argue that over the last 20 years no single change to educational policy has done more to improve the achievement of our students than the introduction of accountability models based on standardized testing. Schools can no longer afford to ignore certain students or accept that certain groups of students do not meet recognized standards.

What is your vision for holding schools accountable for the education of all children?


I don't see the issue as being primarily about testing, though it may have sounded that way. For me it's more about teaching.

Maybe you personally don't do it, but in my kid's classes it seemed like an inordinate amount of time was spent preparing students to get the answers correct on standardized tests. And along the way I had the impression that reading, experiential learning, and thinking were largely sacrificed.

I don't have a magic answer . . . just magic questions.

I don't think we should

I don't think we should conflate the issues either. Simply put, good teachers don't teach to the test, but they do get all of their students to meet the standard. My challenge to progressives is that we need a vision for accountability rather than just stump lines about "testing" and "teaching to the test."

I'll say this... In schools that have a very high level of achievement and no measurable achievement gaps, they are proud of their high level of achievement on standardized tests. In schools that perceive themselves to be high achieving but don't have the test results to prove it, there is often a penchant to blame the test. Given the choice of which school to send my child to, it would be easy to decide.

Graig--I admire and

Graig--I admire and appreciate your work as an educator and an advocate, and thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree that we must hold schools accountable and ensure that they are teaching all of our students. But I'm concerned that our current assessment methods may rely too heavily on multiple choice tests. By including more individual projects, presentations, and essays in our evaluations, we can measure how well our schools are preparing our students to succeed in college, as workers in a global economy, and as citizens, not just how well our schools are preparing our students to succeed on a particular multiple choice exam.

Happy Thanksgiving, Hamp

Graduation Project

In 2010, all graduating seniors will have to produce a "graduation project" - a comprehensive research project in a topic that interests them. This goes above and beyond whatever English curriculum the school currently has in place. Moore County schools have decided to go ahead and start with this project now. My son had to pick a subject he knew little about, but was interested in, find a mentor to help him, research the topic, and get hands-on experience learning his new skill.

He is restoring a really messed-up bass guitar, rebuilding it, learning the ins and outs of balancing it, making all the pieces fit so that he will be able to play it once it's fixed. His mentor is the owner of the local music store, his old guitar teacher. His research paper goes into not only the methods of fixing the bass, but the hows and whys of fixing it; the actual physics of music. It's absolutely fascinating. Once he's done completed this project, he will be ready to write almost any paper for college, and he will know how to repair bass guitars, which is important to him. It's very cool.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

Senior projects

My daughter is making two djembes (sort of . . . out of gourds) and producing a percussion CD - plus a philosophical written report on the concept of rhythm.

We should get these kids together!

That sounds great!

My daughter has to do a Senior Project, too!! Isn't it great to watch them hit bumps and barriers and figure their own way around them? Makes me tear up a little.

I've been a Senior project Judge and I would HIGHLY recommend volunteering to do that to everyone. It's an experience you won't forget. What those kids come up with is amazing.

We definitely DO NOT expect or ask enough of our kids -- as a society -- intellectually (notice i did not write academically). Not all kids are math whizzes or love to read, but they are all capable of so much more than we ask of them or even allow them to do. A few of the best projects and presentations I've ever judged were done by kids who had never taken an Honors or AP class in their entire lives. The presentatioin part gave kids with extraordinary social skills a chance to shine. One young woman answered a question about how she grew or stretched herself during the process by replying that her project had made her realize that she had what it took to go to college and be successful, when she had never in her life previously believed that. I damn near choked up right there.

Other kids found pride in creating a well-crafted, useful product for themselves or someone else. Others actually found their future careers. One young man worked with biofuels, another worked with car engines. They were both clearly excited about what lay ahead of them in their trades/careers.

My daughter's project is on the effects of different adolescent joint injuries on people as they age. She's doing so much that she never imagined she could do -- it's unbelievable. She's gotten mentoring from a professor of excercise physiology at a major (athletic powerhouse) university (through a family contact) and has been Mentored by a local orthopeadic surgeon. She got to watch a couple of surgeries. She was over-the-top excited about that.

The project is time consuming, stressful and frustrating sometimes, but it's the most engaged I've ever seen her in school work. She's building a model of an ankle sprain for her product.because of her own lifelong ankle troubles (sidelined her entire sophomore year). So she also has to work with an artist who has knowledge and skills around molding and sculpting techniques and materials. None of these people can be family members. They all have to be professionals the student seeks out and asks for help and takes advice from. It's just an awesome program.

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Like most bloggers, I love a personal response

But I also know better than to expect to get into a full conversation here. I'm sure our paths will cross and we can discuss this more.

I love meaningful assessments, like the senior projects described below. They are the best for engaging students and getting high quality work and learning. And like you I'm curious to see where the testing commission draws the line on too much testing. Still, I feel that we need some types of objective standards that all kids should meet, and standardized tests are still the best way we have to determine whether kids are meeting those benchmarks.

This is good news!!!

the Blue Ribbon Commission on Testing and Accountability’s draft report criticizing the state’s testing regime.

It's about time. Research shows a whole litany of problems with standardized testing:

Does psychological damage if started too young (3rd grade).
Perpetuates the racial "gap".
Rewards mediocre thinkers who perform better than deep thinkers.
Are foolishly used as a be all end all for assessing learning.

The best book I have read on the topic is loaned out atm. (Alfie Kohn)

The whole bubbling in thing has just gotten out of hand. LIfe is not multiple choice.

Hopefully NC will start reducing the number of tests while the feds scrap NCLB and start over.

Person County Democrats

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?

I see both sides.

There have to be objective measures of how well a student is progressing - and how well a teacher is teaching. At the same time, there must be various methods employed to allow for the differences in both learning styles and abilities - AND teaching styles. I don't think we're there yet. I was quite disturbed when my son brought home tip sheets that were titled "How to do well on the writing test" - instead of "How to Write Well". Subtle things like that, over time, send the wrong message to our students, I think.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi