I saw something memorable on a Friday afternoon in between sessions at the National Association of Black School Educators (NABSE) Annual Conference. There I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and spent 15 minutes watching a student marching band that thrilled me with their excellence, organization, and leadership. I was taken by the sight of a group of elementary and middle school students performing with such poise, I think especially as it was a group of students from one of the countless schools across the nation where excellence in subject areas like math, reading and science has been fleeting.
I think sometimes we give students like the ones in this band a free pass because we understand what they are up against. By that I mean, we may be satisfied with minor gains “towards” rather than “above” proficiency or intermediate levels of learning for students who attend schools that are moderately to heavily antiquated, lacking resources, and have undergone countless reorganization. Not to discount those gains, but here, when the drums started beating, the horns started playing, and the students started marching into the hall, these students were inspired to do so much more than “approach proficiency” with their performance. I was emotionally moved by their overwhelming excellence. These students in this band were showing me and the other educators in attendance a high-flying performance of the most advanced levels.
How do we capture this level of achievement in the classroom on a consistent basis? How do we match assessment to the ways that these students can best show what they know? I guess it’s just another lens to keep us all looking to develop as professionals, to find a way to capture the magic that we know these students can feel. I know after watching a young student whose clarinet stretched all the way to his knees play with mastery (not just proficiency, or above basic levels) in front of an audience of a thousand educators that I am spurred to keep looking.