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L.A. students and teachers display learning beyond tests

May 18, 2012 |  6:53 am


This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

About two dozen teachers and their students assembled Thursday after school near downtown to demonstrate academic prowess beyond a standardized test score.

Preschoolers from MacArthur Park Primary Center, for instance, had prepared watercolors based on Kandinsky. Dahlia Heights fifth- and sixth-graders demonstrated robotic engineering with Legos. And seventh-graders from Julie Van Winkle’s class at Logan Elementary dissected cow eyeballs. They also prepared “cameras obscura” — boxes turned into projection devices that mirror how the eye works.

“Our issue is the fact that the new trend toward more and more standardization of curriculum and standardized testing is limiting our ability to teach the way we know is best for students,” said Jessica Kochick, a special education teacher at Academic Leadership Community School and a lead organizer of the event, held at the Contreras Learning Complex.

The projects showcased learning not measured in a multiple-choice response and, by extension, the limitations of using test scores to rate teachers, Kochick said.

Her comments were aimed at those, including L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, who support using student scores to evaluate teachers. Deasy has insisted that a student’s improvement on such tests should make up part of a teacher’s performance review.

Tiffany Tuggle, 18, a senior at the UCLA Community School, was showing off a project in which she and classmates had assembled past and current advertisements that demeaned woman and homosexuals. The point was to raise awareness about intolerance.

“We can learn lots of things in school that aren’t going to be on a test,” Tuggle said. “I’m not going to go to a job interview and they’re going to say, ‘What is the square root of 365 divided by 8 squared?’”

[For the record, 7:10 pm, June 5: An earlier version of this post incorrectly spelled Tiffany Tuggle's last name as Toggle.]

And if some students aren’t learning the basics they will need—despite the best efforts of teachers, “it’s on the students,” she said.

Teacher Andy Molnar, from Academic Leadership Community, found a way to inspire his students. He collaborated with a nonprofit to help 74 of them write and revise essays to be published in a book.

Jasmine Villanueva, an 18-year-old junior, wrote of her father and how she left home to escape his unrelenting demands and emotional abuse. She also recalled better times, like a spur-of-the-moment trip to Mexico.

“The view from the top of the mountain was beautiful — a desert filled with cacti and a bright sapphire sky,” she wrote. “At the end of the night my father bought firecrackers for all the kids to light. I was so amazed by the different colors. I was happy that I was Mexican and that this was my culture.”

The writing experience “opened something up for me, a new way of letting people know more about me,” she said. “I also learned to take in what happened, to forgive. And I learned better vocabulary, how to use words right.”


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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Lena Sow, 12, and Madeline Balderas, 13, right show off cow eyeballs that they are dissecting, part of a teacher and student learning demonstration Thursday at Contreras Learning Complex. They are seventh-graders at Logan Elementary in the science class of Julie Van Winkle. Credit: Howard Blume/Los Angeles Times