Autumn Sanderson of Conde is my hero of the week. This high school junior is doing what I wish every student in South Dakota would do: she is refusing to take the Dakota STEP, the standardized tests we make our kids bend over backwards each year to complete in obedience to the No Child Left Behind act. She's putting down the pencil and reading a book.
Sanderson is engaging in this fine act of civil disobedience to protest the state's forced closure of her beloved school. Conde's enrollment is less than 100, so that means the state says their school and community don't deserve our support. If the state is going to kill her school, Sanderson figures there's no reason she should do the state's bidding and waste her time filling their test bubbles and supporting their sit-up-and-bark data for the feds.
Sanderson cares a great deal about her school and its history: her sister, brother, father, and grandmother all graduated from Conde. She has done her civic duty, fighting to save her school by testifying before the State Legislature (that takes guts for anyone, especially for someone too young to vote). I also note that she and her teammates performed "This Is a Test," a satire of classroom assessment, at the 2008 State Oral Interp Festival. Clever kids.
When was teaching high school, I always wanted to encourage my students to blow off these silly tests and do something more productive, like read a novel or work on their essays for my class or write Student Congress bills. However, I always felt compelled to carry out the duties assigned by my administration, and I did so, to the letter.
But I always wondered: what would happen if every kid in the school, in the state, would just put down the pencils and say, "Sorry! Not interested"? Would Tom Oster and Wade Pogany give everyone detention?
Autumn, thank you for leading the way. You tell your friends; I'll tell mine. Maybe we can put these tests to bed once and for all.
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