View the episode: Episode 45 – 7/7/15

Kacee Weaver is a wonderful example of a Montessori educator. Her school, Maria Montessori Academy, is an inspiring model of how a public school can embrace Montessori education fully while meeting the challenges of their state regulations. Kacee’s role at the school is one I encourage other large Montessori schools, public or private, to examine closely. She exemplifies an attitude and problem solving orientation that would be useful for anyone to model. Though it could be challenging to find the right person to place in this type of position in your school, I believe the benefits would be tremendous. The level of support she is able to give the classroom educators at her school is a major key to their success in navigating the maze of blending Montessori principles with the requirements imposed by their government regulators. Kacee shares some ways to address these challenges. Below are some additional specific resources to help.

One of the biggest challenges in public Montessori schools in the U.S. is the common expectation that the students demonstrate competence based on a list of skills covered in a set of state-mandated standards. This set is frequently the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), as well as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), but some states have their own sets. For example, Texas has its own unique lists for all curriculum areas and Minnesota kept its own math standards while adopting the CCSS language standards and the NGSS. Increasingly, passing scores on standardized tests tied to these standards are a key requirement for schools to stay in good standing with their governing bodies. In some states, job security for educators and school funding are dependent upon these passing scores.

Some organizations, including Montessori Records Xpress and The Montessori Foundation, are encouraging Montessori schools to consider the standards as an opportunity to show the academic strengths of the Montessori curriculum. Even those who are confident Montessori students will deliver high test scores, especially once they have a chance to master testing formats and have enough time in the Montessori environment, are worried about the costs along the way. The testing formats can require time to master and the time spent learning computer skills can detract from the children’s work chosen based on their own interests. Also, especially for newer Montessori educators, it is difficult to follow the student interest-led classroom routines they learned and still promote mastery of all the skills on the standards lists. Some parents and educators, in Montessori schools and others, are choosing to opt out of the tests rather than impose these requirements on their children. Most Montessori educators believe the wise course is to have several strategies to insure their schools and students will thrive in the era of high-stakes standardized testing based on sets of standards that they usually did not choose.

Some strategies and solutions:

  • Know the standards and the correlation between those skills and the Montessori lesson sequences. Take advantage of these helpful resources from AMI-USA and Seton Montessori.
  • Give new educators, especially, time to master the standards and professional development support to do so.
  • Opt out knowledgeably. Before opting out for your child or your school, know the consequences. (Some states have given “failing grades” to schools who have under a certain percentage of students who completed the required tests. This can impact funding and other important administrative survival issues such as renewal of the charter for public charter schools.)
  • Use a record-keeping system that allows the classroom educator to remain student-focused and Montessori materials-based. (Electronic record-keeping systems take time to set up and learn but quickly pay off with higher quality records produced in less time.)
  • Share the Montessori approach to education and why you embrace it – including rejecting or limiting testing.

Change the conversation when you have the opportunity. Speak out to state government representatives and let them know what you value in education. If you have followed the research that supports rejecting testing, share that with officials you can help educate. Even if you don’t opt out, write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, attend school board meetings at all levels, and spread the word about what you know education can be through your experience with Montessori.