Responding to Your Survey Comments

When I receive the survey results each week, I have two mindsets through which I filter them.  First, I am a paying customer at Acton Academy and I come, like you, with the mindset of a loving, concerned parent; second, I am head of school and bring my professional perspective and dedication to serving our mission as we have promised you.

Today I wanted to respond directly to the survey comments.

My “mom” perspective is short and sweet though it runs deeply through my heart:

  • My son’s scores on the standardized tests did not improve like they have in the past.
  • My son loves airsoft games and I’m sure talks about this at school.

I am not immune to the sinking feelings of hearing through the survey about something you must address intentionally at home – where most of life’s great conversations should start.

My “head of school” response has a bit more meat on the bones for you to chew on:

Standardized test scores:

We’ve never put much weight on standardized tests at Acton Academy. We do not prepare students for the tests, and with few exceptions, don’t consider them very important, especially since there is no correlation between tests like the SAT and performance in college or later in life.  That said, with the concern raised about the standardized testing, I thought you might appreciate a summary of the results from this year’s Elementary School:

1. Four students out of 36 did score slightly below grade level in an area, but none of the students who have been at Acton longer than one year were more than two months below grade level in any subject and no student was more than half a grade level behind in any subject.

2. Twenty-nine students were more than two grade levels above in one or more areas, with quite a few students having maxed out the tests (9+ grade level). Again, this is out of 36 students.

3. Twenty-two students advanced less than one grade level in a subject, but 19 of the 22 were either two grade levels or more above in that subject or new to the school.

In summary, many of our students have advanced so rapidly that it’s impossible for them to keep up the pace – they simply are maxing out the tests. Others may dip slightly in a year, focusing more on math than on reading. Others may be developing differently for a year or so, in ways a standardized test cannot measure. We call this a learning “plateau” and these are valuable times in life.

We will never take credit for our Eagle’s success, but there’s little doubt that self-directed learning works, maybe not for every child and every parent, but certainly for the community as a whole.

Making rules on what students can talk about at school:

Our students work hard as a community to respect each other and have empathy regarding language and discussion topics. I believe adults could learn a lot from them. Students have asked each other not to say certain things at school even if they are okay at home. Their list includes, “Oh my god” and “shut up.”

The stories of life in our student community are quite powerful and include the challenging time when students learned that talking about playdates at school hurts others even though it comes from a joyous place.

There are other examples such as children hearing criticism from other students because of what is in their lunchboxes. From there is “too much sugar in your drink” to “having meat in your sandwich is cruel.”

These well intentioned messages do hurt and resolution has been managed beautifully around family dinner tables and within group discussions at school.

While our general philosophy is to guide our students into careful, personal decision-making rather than simply following a long list of rules, this year is different. The topic of guns has become an emotional and divisive discussion in our nation. It will be a relief to take it off the table at school and to ease the stress for even one child.

Therefore, I will be advising the guides to include the discussions of guns games in our “list of topics that offend” others at school. The students will discuss this in our weekly town meeting and will have a chance to respond and share.

Our children are open-minded, kind and thoughtful people. I trust they will embrace this. Those  who enjoy the airsoft games and nerf gun games can continue to do so in the privacy of their homes.

I talked to my son after school today.  He understood why this topic should stay outside of school. I am certain that you, too, will have wonderful discussions with your children.

We are like-minded families on some very important life issues and values. Together our children will gain a deeper understanding of why this topic deeply bothers some people. These discussions are valuable – let’s not shy away when it’s difficult.

Asking for anonymous feedback on a weekly basis is challenging yet we will never stop offering this opportunity. We believe in it deeply even on the hard days. I am always grateful for the considerate, thoughtful and wise input that we often do receive.