A FEW education theorists might gulp, but an elementary school in Auburn seems to be proving that sometimes building on the old ways work best.
Gildo Rey Elementary has scored a stunning turnaround in results on state standardized tests — that at first glance resembles teaching by rote.
Tell the story that way and some people will carp. That stuff went out with inkwells. The school must be “teaching to the test.” And who says standardized tests matter anyway?
But at Gildo Rey Elementary, something remarkable is at work. About 90 percent of students come from households in poverty. Fifteen years ago, the passage rate on the fourth-grade math-and-reading tests had slipped below 40 percent — statewide it is 65 percent. Today? More than 95 percent of fourth-graders are passing math, and reading scores aren’t far behind.
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A change that enormous cannot be dismissed. As reporter Linda Shaw explained in an Education Lab story Monday, creative teachers, under former Principal Robin Logan, recognized that the school’s disadvantaged students were not served well by traditional teaching methods.
Basic concepts needed to be cemented in the young students’ minds. Small-group instruction is an important element in the school’s approach, but the striking thing about Gildo Rey’s fast-paced classes is the way the students drill, drill, drill. Teachers ask questions; students shout answers in unison.
Calling it rote learning doesn’t do it justice — teachers prefer “direct instruction” — but clearly it takes a faculty with high energy and commitment. They don’t see standardized tests as a nuisance, but rather a measure of progress.
Gildo Rey’s approach might not be right for every school, but its success ought to teach the rest of us a lesson. In an age when so many seem to think more money and better bureaucracy will fix K-12 schools, the school demonstrates that an active, caring and, above all, innovative faculty can achieve wonders.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).