Leading Source

A rich vocabulary, useful in any context

the-power-of-wordsHow many eighth graders can explain the meaning of the word oligarchy? What about antebellum, or insurrection? These are words that eighth-grade students should be familiar with when it comes to their social studies curriculum, and a new plan in Tennessee is working to make sure that this happens, according to the Washington Post.

The purpose of the Academic Vocabulary Project is to close the gap between students from low-income families and their more financially stable peers. The former often lag behind in many areas of school, and vocabulary is an especially stubborn problem.

Two things about this program make it stand out to me: that it was established well before the state came out as a winner last month in the “Race to the Top” program, and that it is not specifically designed to increase standardized test performance. In an education system where federal funding is the Holy Grail, and test scores seem to be the best way to get to it, it’s refreshing to see a program that is truly innovative in its focus on something other than test preparation.

The great thing is, a program that enriches vocabulary is bound to help test scores in the long run.  While the lists of words for kindergarteners and sixth through eighth graders might not show up in a standardized test, they are chosen to enhance students’ grasp of material beyond a surface understanding.

 The program doesn’t teach rote memorization. Instead, students keep a vocabulary notebook where they write down their own examples and sentences to help them develop a personal understanding of what each word means.

When “Race to the Top” first came on the scene, I expressed concern about schools taking shortcuts and feigning innovation just to make a quick buck. But Tennessee didn’t take that path here—they came up with a thoughtful, honest initiative that was in the works long before they stood to gain any money for it.  And look, they got money anyway!

In a time when low-performing schools are being closed at an alarming rate, maybe it’s time for more states to take a page out of Tennessee’s book and concentrate on something other than testing. It may just pay off.

Tricia Smith, Spring intern

Naomi Dillon|April 15th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Governance, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

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