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Chappaqua Schools Try To Balance Creativity, Tests

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. – School officials say they are facing a paradox of balancing creativity and individualism with grading and standardized testing, and if any resolution exists, Chappaqua Education for the Future is determined to find it.

“The state is pushing us more toward standardized tests and teacher accountability. But we have to follow those mandates and also turn them into something that’s meaningful for our community,” said Martha Zornow, principal of Seven Bridges Middle School. “Students are more than just a standardized test score.”

The group of administrators, teachers, parents and students was founded in 2011 as a way to gather community members of all different backgrounds and discuss how to best equip its graduates for the future.

Its 26 members talked over the summer and came up with three main focal points to address throughout the school year: communication and collaboration; creativity; and social, emotional and physical health.

Horace Greeley High School senior and group member Arielle Kahn said the biggest challenge facing the district is students wearing themselves out trying to be a “well-rounded” while also maintaining high grade levels.

“All you have time to do is learn the information and spit it out on tests, but not really truly immerse yourself in the information so that it’s something that becomes real to you,” Kahn said. “You have to have all the extra curriculars, you have to be well-rounded, but at the same time you have the have the test scores, you have to have the GPA, at some point it’s like we can’t all be superheroes.”

School board member Randy Katchis does not believe those pressures can ever be removed from a school environment, but he believes it is possible to change the environment in which those pressures are handled. He said the district should strive for a “failure-friendly” environment, where students embrace failure, turn criticisms into confidence and try again.

The district will be discussing the topic further at a meeting on Oct. 22 at 7:15 p.m. Author Sam Wang will join the district at Robert E. Bell Middle School to discuss issues raised in his book “Welcome to Your Child's Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College.”

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