Students majoring in alternative subjects face obstacles


By Bennett Fuson
<[email protected]>

Senior Chris Kovey watched his classmate cut a 2×4 piece of wood during the theater technology SRT. Normally he would do the work himself, but after the accumulation of everything else he had done that morning in preparation for last spring’s musical, 42nd Street, he deserved a break.

“I like this class,” Kovey said, twirling a pipe that would undoubtedly soon become yet another prop, “Because it’s not a standard class. The people here have put in more hours than anyone in this school, and it’s all voluntary.”

Kovey represents a unique, under-acknowledged population of the school: those students who devote themselves towards performance or vocation. While it is certainly noted that performing arts students are, indeed, highly acknowledged in this community, the lack of representation stems from the evaluation standards set on both a national and state level.

These evaluations, more commonly known as the ISTEP, PSAT, SAT and Core 40 tests, establish standards that then become the basis of funding, school recognition and school ranking, according to counselor Stephanie Benson. Yet Benson said that the school prides itself for not falling into the trap of solely striving for minimum test-score standards.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on is individual counseling,” Benson said. “We try to talk to everyone and figure out a good course of action from there.”

Kovey said he has spent the past six years working with theater technology and decided to pursue it as a career by gaining so much work experience here. He said he plans to enroll at either Ball State University or Purdue University, focusing on a double major in theater lighting and electric engineering. Yet, as Kovey notes, when he took the SAT, there was no section on theater lighting, or any aspect of technology at all.

This led Kovey to understand that for himself and people like him, the standardized tests that generally gauge intelligence for everyone else do not quite accommodate his topics of understanding. And while Kovey still excels in his classes here, qualifying in the 99th percentile in the ISTEP test and for the National Merit Scholarship, he said he finds the whole concept of a “one size fits all” test rather stifling.

“Do tests help? No, not really,” Kovey said. “Except math. Seeing the hours (of work spent with theater technology) is important (on a college transcript), but if they looked at grades, it won’t help. I’m sure that colleges look at my other grades first, but chemistry and statistics? They don’t matter in my line of work.”

Benson said she acknowledges these students’ situations, and that she herself believes that the education system as a whole is increasingly less forceful on the critical thinking aspect of the process.

But, she said, Carmel strives to maintain a higher level of education offered.

“I would like to think that at a school like Carmel, we haven’t lost that level (of higher education) yet,” Benson said. “Testing here is secondary to learning, and learning is the key. It’s been a deliberate plan at Carmel to make thinking and learning key.”

For this reason, Benson said she recommends specialized or vocational post-secondary schooling. Benson said that in the case of specialized schools, admissions officers do not necessarily focus on standardized test scores, choosing instead to base admission on the individual student.

However, although students like Kovey plan to continue their alternative passion into their career, other students devote their time solely as a hobby.

Senior Katherine “Katie” Johnson, who plays clarinet in both the marching band and wind symphony, said she has spent the past four years almost exclusively in the performing arts department. While she said this would be good for a student who plans to study music as a career, this time does not benefit her uncommitted intentions for a major in college that doesn’t involve music.

“It’s been really fun to do, and I’ve made a lot of friends,” Johnson said. “But this close to graduation, I’m starting to wonder if I might have made the wrong decision on where to put my time. It would be really hard to relate marching band lessons to an accounting major, wouldn’t it?”

“I think there are a lot of students who look back and realize they’re in a bind,” Benson said. “They maybe focused on performing arts or work, and now they’re stuck.”

Kovey said he finds himself grateful for the experience that he’s had thus far, but it won’t really be much except a fond memory if it doesn’t help him get into college.

As he finished his break, while other students throughout the building were worrying about their next math test or their history grade, Kovey surveyed the room, concerned not with his grades but with the new curtain that his peers were installing. He sighed, grabbed a wrench, and returned to work.

By the Numbers

  • ISTEP State Average Pass Rate: 73.3%
  • Carmel ISTEP Pass Rate: 93.8%

Indiana Department of Education / Source

“The SAT reasoning test is a measure of the critical reading skills you’ll need for academic success in college. The SAT assess how well you analyze and solve problems-skills you learned in school that you’ll need in college.” / Source