Ah, the last Saturday in August!
It's a day when all college football fans are happy and hopeful.
I love this day. That's because I'm a Vanderbilt football fan, which means today is probably the last Saturday of the year that my team will be undefeated.
Today, I can feel good about my team. I can tell myself we have great players and great coaches and great facilities and even great traditions.
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Notice how I say "we." Isn't it funny how when a team wins, its fans say, "We won," but when a team loses, its fans say, "They lost"?
So today I'm feeling good and saying "we."
But next week, the season starts and games will be played and I'll probably realize that my team's players and coaches and facilities and even traditions aren't so hot after all.
That's because somebody will be keeping score, and there will be winners and losers.
The same thing applies to local school districts.
Our kids seem pretty sharp and have shiny new notebooks and some of them even did some summer reading. Our teachers seem pretty energetic and knowledgeable and their classrooms are clean and well decorated.
The schoolyards are well manicured and the messages on the marquee are encouraging.
We're going to have a great year!
Notice I said "we."
And we've got plenty of time to be optimistic. The big game isn't for another eight months or so -- that's when the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests will be administered in elementary and middle schools -- and then we won't get our scores for a month or two after that.
So right now we feel pretty good. But in the early spring, panic will set in. That's when teachers begin administering a battery of practice exams.
One spring break, one of my children said he couldn't go out to the beach because he needed to take practice CRCT tests online or he was going to fail.
That made me mad. I understand that it's important for students to take practice tests so they can understand the format of the test and the style in which questions are asked and whether to skip or guess when a question stumps them.
But for a third-grader to think he's going to fail because he doesn't take 100 online practice tests? That's like a football player thinking he has a better chance of winning if he lifts as much weight as he can the day before the big game.
The CRCT tests a student's knowledge. The best way to gain knowledge is through experience, not cramming.
More than any other subject, this applies to math, which, by the way, was the only subject in which the Muscogee County School District failed to show improvement this year.
To learn math, you've got to sit down and spend time struggling with actual math problems.
It also helps to have a good teacher who can explain how to solve problems and also how the knowledge you're gaining can be used in real life.
The answer isn't for districts to teach to the test or to assign a thousand practice tests.
The answer is, at an early age, to instill in them a love for learning, to teach them how to block and tackle, and to give them plenty of time to experiment, master and apply their skills before adding another twist.
In Muscogee County schools, just like in Vanderbilt football, a positive change is going to require a culture change. We can't just strike up the band and cheer a little harder.
We're going to have to think and act differently, and we're going to need a fresh approach to leadership.
Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, firstname.lastname@example.org