The “Total Child” Philosophy – Interview with Gary Stern at Laurence School

  • December 3, 2013

The “Total Child” Philosophy – Interview with Gary Stern at Laurence School

The “Total Child” philosophy at Laurence School in Valley Glen, CA sees children as individuals who benefit from a challenging curriculum, a character-based education, and an embrace of global citizenship. We wanted to hear from Gary Stern, Associate Head of School/Principal at Laurence about his take on student performance in the classroom in correlation with performance on standardized tests, and the impact of “teaching for the test” vs teaching for lifelong learning.

Is there a correlation between classwork and performance on standardized test scores?

Standardized tests only focus on two out of the eight or nine different intelligences we have as learners. There is no clear correlation in how well children do in art, music, drama, or character building and standardized tests, because – simply stated – standardized tests don’t measure those intelligences. Instead, they are only designed to focus on language development and Math. Therefore, in a sense, standardized tests do not really capture the whole child, but rather, a very narrow area of the child.

A lot of kids get anxious about test taking, and often get distracted throughout the process. For them, standardized tests are not really commensurate with how they perform in the classroom on a daily basis. If you have students who do not tend to experience test anxiety and have the ability to focus long-term on tasks consistently, then the correlation between their performance in the classroom and their performance on a standardized test is stronger. However, that’s not the case for all students, or even a high majority of students in the United States.

There are certain children who do better on open-ended responses. There are also children whose writing skills are not quite there creatively and organizationally, but they can do better on a multiple-choice standardized test because narrowing down the choices makes it easier for them. So we also have to keep in mind the kinds of standardized tests we are implementing in schools.

How does that branch out into the lifelong learner mindset?

Although they are a big part of the education system today, standardized tests are a very unfair measure of student performance, since they don’t test student resilience. They only reward certain qualities: kids who are highly analytical and have good verbal reasoning and mathematical skills (in the event that they are also not highly anxious about taking the test, and in the event that they are able to focus for a long period of time and able to transition from one section to another). There are a lot of variables that come into play.

The role of schools in general should be to prepare students to be successful lifelong learners in the world in which they are being raised. There are certain characteristics that individuals need in order to be successful in the 21st century, and these characteristics need to be incorporated into the curriculum. That means more project-based, collaborative, innovating information and assignments. We don’t know what jobs we are preparing kids for. The jobs that will be in high demand ten years from now may not have even been created yet, so there’s more to education than preparing kids for a test.

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