Monday, January 26, 2015

Testing, testing and more testing

In recent weeks, I have been asked by a number of people what my thoughts are on the right to "opt-out" of grade school standardized testing.  As a result, I am writing this not at all witty or fun blog.  The reality is that this is a VERY personal decision.  Several things came into play when I was wrapping my head around this possibility.

From a child development/counseling perspective, the amount of pressure we put on our children with these tests is too much.  Way too much.  But I am not entirely sure that I buy into the "common core is evil" mentality all together. As we move into the age of Education 3.0, it would be easy to lose sight of what our children are really learning.  I love project based learning and real world applications. But can my kid read at an appropriate reading level? Can she do basic arithmetic?  I honestly couldn't tell you by looking at a report card in my kids' school district.

The problem isn't necessarily the assessments, it is the value placed on the assessments.  As much as I want to hate some of these assessments, there have been several times that this is the only way I had a concrete understanding of how my children are doing in school.  The grade cards are clear as mud, giving arbitrary numbers to rate the performance of my child.  I never know when to praise my child, as I cannot ever tell if they are reaching their full potential looking at a sea of numbers with vague definitions, interpreted differently by each teacher.  What stinks is that I can't praise my kids based on these assessments either.  I can praise them for trying their hardest, but they certainly don't need me adding to the pressure of the assessments.

The way things are now, my children's teachers can use the assessments administered as a teaching tool.  I like that. I think that it's important to keep in mind that it is ONE tool of many, but a tool nonetheless.  The PARCC, however would not yield results in a timeframe conducive to that.  Why would we give something like this to our kids? Oh yeah…to further criticize and critique our teachers.  That makes sense.  Let's have our teachers devote a bunch of time to prepare our kids for a test that cannot be used to help enhance their learning as an assessment.  By the time the results come in, my child will be in a different class.  Brilliant.  This is nearly as logical as it is to use these assessments to judge our teachers without taking into consideration SES, IQ, or any other factors that have a direct correlation to how well a student can learn.

So will I have my child opt out of the PARCC? This exam is not a teaching tool in any way.  It is merely a way to ramp up my kid's anxiety and put pressure on our teachers.  The answer for me is still no.  The biggest two reasons are (1) I know my kids can handle the pressure if I help guide them in understanding that this test does not define their worth as a student and (2) our superintendent of schools.

Number one was not an easy declaration for me.  I have one child that has struggled with anxiety for half of her life.  These tests are killer for her.  She has even been known to bomb an SRI or two. All the same, this has been a learning experience for our family.  She is going to be faced with obstacles like this throughout her entire life.  We've taught her that this is a way to overcome her worries and fears.  We don't value her based on a number that some standardized test spits at us.  As we have drilled this into her beautiful little mug, she has improved at taking these wretched assessments.  I doubt that they will ever truly capture the essence of her crazy intelligent mind, but she is growing.  Hopefully this will help her in the years to come if she chooses a higher education institution that requires a standardized test.

Now on to Dr. John Marschhausen.  I truly feel as though we are very fortunate to have a superintendent that is an advocate for our children in our school district.  I am pretty certain that he isn't 100% sold on these tests, but he has asked the parents to be patient and stay the course.  He has been fabulous in communicating with parents.  We have opportunities to hear him speak…many many opportunities.  I will admit, I really don't make the time to get there, but just knowing that option is there means very much to me as a parent.  He has had meetings about testing…to answer questions and to HEAR parents.  If none of those things are convenient for parents, he has taken to social media.  So, when he asks that we not opt out at this time and that we do exactly what the state asks at this time in order to form well informed opinions on this new PARCC assessment...I will respect that.  I trust that he has the best interests of the students of this district at heart.v

To be clear, this isn't an us versus them mentality.  I do not begrudge others for choosing to opt-out.  As parents, we are all doing the best that we can.  Furthermore, there is no one size fits all method of parenting.  It is not my place to judge others, as I would expect others would pay my family that same respect. So many parenting issues become ways to pit parents (mothers in particular) against one another.  We have the nursing moms versus the bottle feeders, the working moms versus the stay at homers.  All this division is crap.  It's safe to say there are very very few people that LOVE the testing that is mandated for public schools.  Let's not let our opinions on this front divide us as parents wanting the very best education for our children.

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