Not enough learning

I loathe the fact that our public school system puts so much emphasis on the standardized test.  I realize that almost every state mandates a series of achievement test administered periodically in a student’s primary and secondary academic career.  State and local school systems can glean all sorts of information from them.  I understand there is value in them.  I think its fine for kids to take them.

I don’t however think that the schools should teach to the test or that there be rigorous preparation for the test.  In most private schools, such as the one my kids went to in Argentina, there is annual standardized testing in 3-9 grades.  It happens once a year and perhaps an hour or two is spent familiarizing the kids with how questions might be presented to them along with some handy dandy tips on how to manage their time.  As a parent you receive notice saying these are the days the test will be administered,  try to have your kid well rested and fortified with a good breakfast.  I never heard anything more about it until I received my child’s test scores in a report card.

The results are pretty self-explanatory, but if you have any questions you schedule a conference with the school counselor.  I am mildly interested in my kid’s results.  The tests are consistant in telling me one of my kids is horrible at taking standardized tests, one is pretty talented at the test taking, I only wish it translated into good grades, one is a hard working test taker who excels and one is clearly confounded by maths.  Nothing I could not have told you before.  So I will assume that there was some value in it for the school.

Forward to my new school district.  Apparently one of the best, if not the best in the state I hear, them say.  One of the best according to a glossy local magazine that annually puts out a ranking of the state’s towns and schools.   To be the best at something you have to show an extraordinary result.  So this “best” is basically a function of quantifiable criteria.  While teacher student ratios and college graduation rates play a part of the equation its the numerous standardized tests that weigh the heaviest.

Why are these scores so important?   Teachers, administrators and parents all talk about these tests.  A LOT.   I get the teachers and administrator part.  This is feedback on how they are doing their jobs.  What they do with the information is another story.  Are they incented by these scores?  I have been told the higher the scores the more federal or state money they get.  Sorry, seems counter intuitive to me.  Shouldn’t the money go where the need is? Our high school’s astro-turfed football field/stadium has an entrance gate that looks like the train depot at Disney’s Main Street USA.  I would argue we don’t need the money, especially to pay for salaries for more high level administrators of these tests.

The part that pisses me off is that parents buy in to the importance of these tests.  In my community they have seemed to drunk the Kool-aid.  Why else would everyone so passively let the academic curriculum be high-jacked by these tests.  I was at my 4th grader’s Open House in September when twice in a 30 minute presentation we discussed these March mastery tests.  First, it was gleefully announced that they had found a extra hour in their weekly schedule to focus on some of the material and methodology of these tests .  We were also suppose to share the teacher’s enthusiasm for the fact a 5th grade teacher would beginning to work on some science curriculum with them this year so that they would be prepared for the science portion of the testing they would be taking NEXT year.  Most parents just shrug when I ask if they think this is a little bit insane.  In the minority of taking issue with it, one girlfriend said this was one of a few reasons they move their kids into private school for middle school and beyond.

Approximately a week later the frantic obsessive test taking reared its ugly head for a second time when my 6th grader came home with an untouched lunchbox.  When asked why he had not eaten it, he told me that because he was new to the school they wanted him to practice taking a test (ERB,something that’s isn’t mandated by the state but our school district swears by it).  These kids have been taking this test since first or second grade.  This practice session was being administered during his micro moment for lunch (20 minutes).  My sixth grader was new to school and is a good kid and did what the teacher asked, despite the fact that this is when he did what little socializing he could and he is a type one diabetic and needs to EAT!  I was livid.  It only emphasized to me how out of control their focus was.  Test results were paramount to a happy and healthy kid.  I gave myself several days to simmer down and they wrote a very pointed email to the dean of my childs section.

…I am writing on behalf of my husband and myself.  Recently an episode at school upset me so much that it took me a while to calm down enough to  write thoughtfully to you.  On Tuesday September 20, ____ was instructed by his English teacher (I think she is a substitute) to ” at lunch break come to my classroom to practice for a test which will be taken tomorrow”. I only discovered this because when he came home that day his lunch was untouched. I asked him about it, and he gave me the details.  This was disturbing on several levels.  One, ____is a diabetic and is administered insulin through a pump that is programed using assumptions that he is going to eat a certain amount of food at a certain time.  He should not miss a meal.  Second, lunch and any free time are key components of his transition from a small international school to _________.  And thirdly, as parents, we don’t care how ____ does on standardized  tests as long as he is learning and advancing intellectually and  emotionally.  We understand that the _____ school system puts a huge emphasis on these tests for reasons that have yet to be articulated clearly or justifiably to us.  We certainly do not accept that practice testing for tests whose value is completely unclear should interfere with our son’s health and social well-being.    In a nutshell, my son’s health and social well-being are paramount to  any importance the school district has put on the results of these tests.  I have explained to ___ the importance of him having a normal  lunch break and I hope you understand our priorities…. 

A few days later she got me on the phone and wanted to “clarify” a few things to me.  First thing she did was to punt my kid under the bus, stating he needed to be a better advocate for himself (he’s eleven, and isn’t that your job) and should have told the teacher he needed time to eat.  Then she tried to sell me on the importance of the tests.  At which point I mentioned again (see email)  I don’t really care how he does on the tests.  He is a good student and I don’t worry about him.  “Well if he is a good student he will want to do well on the tests because the kids talk about their scores, they are so proud of them, its really “neat””…….Well clearly she wasn’t getting the point that they weren’t important to me.  While I could see value to the school, I didn’t see why anyone should be proud the results of a test which doesn’t indicate hard work or achievement but preparation and an aptitude for multiple choice tests.  WHOPEE, you get a gold star!

Clearly she hadn’t run into a parent like me that felt so strongly as to tell her I could not have cared less about these results the school was working so hard to achieve.   I do blame parents who don’t see the wasted energy and resources in letting the schools teach to the test and put so much focus the preparation and results.  Its good to work for something but for a test that indicates what?

I live in a community where people are successful.  Parent I know all have  college plus educations and want to give their kids all sorts of opportunities that will begat other opportunities (a prestigious college is at the top of the list).  Kids in third grade know their test scores and friends tell me their kids test scores (high on my list of pet peeves).

Maybe I have four fucking geniuses in my house.  I don’t, but I wouldn’t tell you if I did.  My kids are not trophies that reside in a certain percentile or are numbers to improve on.  My kids may or may not be able to take a test.  What I want for my kids to is to learn how to think, critic, analyze, articulate and communicate ideas.   All my kids are talented in their own weird way and they will become “successful” adults (to me that means happy and taking care of themselves) despite of how well they did on these tests.  If you want to see how you are doing school system, go to it, quickly and with out screwing with my kids real education.

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About Elizabeth

Wife and mother of four. This blog is personal, political and hopefully relevant with a sense of humor. I got to have a sense of humor with the tough crowd I deal with everyday, and they cant even vote, drink or drive.

4 Responses

  1. Big Neighbor

    Love this. Thank you, thank you, thank you. _______ took the stupid fucking cap tests last year(wait till you get a load of those). There are some of them that require a certain score to graduate and some that are for school district chest bloating. Somebody got a lower score than “target” on a chest beater and they told us he had to retake it. I was glad that he did act as his own advocate (even at 16 a surprise) and he told them to go scratch on the retake. I will support him as far he needs on this.

  2. Beth

    Big sigh….taught nearly twenty years in CA b4 Arg…..I so believed inoir public school system way back then..in 1986. But now I m Waiting for Superman…..xo

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