School to Farm
When teachers in the Harlem Success Academy charter schools observed that students were struggling with farming references on standardized tests, they decided to do some unconventional test prep. They took their classes to a farm and let them learn firsthand about sheep and pumpkins.
Some people (namely, commenters on the New York Times website) see this as a sign that teaching to the test has gotten out of hand. I think the field trip is more reasonable than most of the test prep that goes on in schools. Children who struggle to read a passage on a standardized test because they’re unfamiliar with farms will run into the same problem whenever they come across agricultural terms in a newspaper or a novel, so schools are right to address the deficiency early. And a field trip to see farm animals gives students direct knowledge of the world, unlike a day spent memorizing “test-taking strategies” that have no application outside of the classroom.
The traditional approach to test-prep — practice questions, out-of-context vocabulary lists, and lectures on the process of elimination — doesn’t work very well, but many schools fall back on it because it’s easy to implement during regular class time. It’s great that a charter has approached the problem creatively and found a hands-on way to give kids an advantage on tests.
Of course, students wouldn’t have to go all the way to a farm to learn about chickens if enough chickens lived in the city. Local governments should bear in mind the educational repercussions when they consider banning farm animals.