If you’re like me, you haven’t used a Scantron since you left school.
In my job as executive director of The Arts Partnership, I can’t raise money with a Scantron. I can’t engage people in conversation, I can’t create new programming, I can’t apply for grants, and I can’t write a monthly column using a Scantron. And I don’t think I am the only one for whom this is true.
So why do they keep showing up? And today, increasingly, they are the assessment tool of choice for our children—you know, tomorrow’s workers, entrepreneurs and leaders.
Keith Veronese, author of “The birth of Scantrons, the bane of standardized testing,” writes: “Scantron sheets grew in popularity as a testing aid in the mid-1970s, with the method of data acquisition changing the world of testing by turning exams into multiple guess puzzles.”
I don’t exactly understand how asking people to problem-solve using multiple guesses is preparing anyone to become future engineers, lawyers, artists, developers, elected officials or really anything except people who believe that the answer has to be one of the five in front of them.
The last time I checked, there were no answers, right or wrong, staring back at me about anything. Instead, I do research, creatively solve problems, talk with and listen to others, work through multiple scenarios and try out ideas, some that succeed and some that don’t.
Do you know where I learned to do that? On the stage.
As an actor, I learned to listen so that I was responding with honesty and integrity. I learned to take risks; one of my college professors used to call out during rehearsal, “That’s a choice. It’s not the right choice, but it’s a choice.” Not every risk was successful, but I learned that if I tried nothing, I got nothing. And when I tried and succeeded, it was a big deal.
I learned that I had to study the history of a period, understand the societal mores of the people of an era and get to the root of what drove my character so that I knew what motivated her and made her human.
I learned the important idea of G.O.T.E. sheets: Goals, Obstacles, Tactics and Expectations. What does my character want? What’s standing in her way? How will she work around those obstacles? What does she anticipate will happen?
Doesn’t that sound like the work researchers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, managers, teachers and others do?
Ultimately, much of what I do is about risk-taking. It takes courage to ask for money, to write a grant, to propose a new program, to challenge the norms.
It takes courage to step out on a stage, to pick up an instrument or paintbrush, to dance on pointe, to sing a solo, to be an artist of any kind. There will always be critics and skeptics who think you should just get a “real” job, pursue a safe major and wake up to reality.
The same can be said of scientists who work to cure a disease, engineers who dream of designing a rocket to take us to another planet, teachers who create curriculum that inspires students to transcend simply learning for the test.
Using all kinds of the arts in the classroom has the potential to engage students far beyond what a Scantron can ever hope to do.
Nebraska teacher Shari Edwards noted what incorporating art into her curriculum did for her students in her article “Authentic Learning: Engaging Students Through the Arts” on the Scholastic Teachers website. “My main goal is to allow my students to use art to respond to and explore their learning rather than developing a particular artistic skill. I’ll leave the latter to their art teacher and just use art for ensuring my students’ ability to process, retain and retrieve their new learning!”
Incorporating art into curriculum isn’t about training future artists; rather, it’s about training future thinkers, developers, leaders and community-invested people. Last time I checked, a Scantron can’t do that.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, May 25, 2015, issue of the paper.