My generation takes our role as parent very seriously. We labor over every detail from where our children's food is sourced to how our children learn. Every big decision has been researched and fraught over. So, in no way do I have any disrespect for the parents who chose last week to opt-out. I believe that they made the decision they believe is best for their child. This is simply an explanation as to why I chose differently. Over the past week, the narrative has belonged to one side of the story. Here is mine.
(Please indulge the Q & A style blog)
Q - What was your overall reason for having your children take the standard testing and not opt out?
A - My children attend public school and standardized testing is a part of the 3rd grade. The testing is very challenging. My hope is to teach my children to face a challenge and not back down from it. We all know that life and learning has its fair share of difficulties that we must walk though and not cut a path around.
Q - Don't you think the 3rd grade is too early to start standardized testing?
A - No. One of our top priorities for our girls is preparedness. The more comfortable they are with certain theories, tools and requirements the better they will do. So, I look at the state tests as preparation for the big test - the only standardized test most parents won't opt out of - the SAT. (For the record I took that one twice). The end goal is that this just becomes a part of the educational process.
1986, was a year of academic challenge for me. My family made the move to New York state and it didn't take long to realize that I was a bit academically in over my head. The regents program was a more rigorous program than I was accustomed to. For the next several months, I worked very hard to catch up. As the school year wrapped up, I had to face a week of exams. My parents did all they could to prepare me. The exams were hard. But when I passed them all, I had never felt so good.
Q - But, don't you agree that tests like this are scary?
A - Every "first" can be frightening. My daughter was scared out of her mind when she first road her bike without the wheels. But, the joy in her eyes when she soared down that street without falling was amazing. As I sent them off to school last Tuesday, of course we all had anxiety. But, when they got home they said it was fine. It was just like their other tests in school. The next day, it was business as usual.
Q - Do you see any benefit at all to the perceived excessive test prep time?
A - During the test preparation period as I worked with my girls, I became increasingly aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They both have pacing issues - one is too fast and one is too slow. There are other issues as well - it was during test prep that these issues became clear. I had seen glimpses of some of these issues before. But, let's face it knowing where to focus our attention can be a problem. There is so much homework and project work combined with the social issues that come up as our kids get older that the list of things that need our focus is overwhelming. The test preparation really shined a light on areas that needed immediate attention.
Q - Isn't the amount of test prep time in class stealing time from real learning?
A - The test preparation at our school consisted of review sheets for material taught throughout the year. At times it would focus on test taking strategies. But, all these things are beneficial for my children. Students in high school and college do the same thing as they prepare for semester ending finals. Reinforcing previously learned material has always been essential to true learning.
Q - Come on, isn't material being altered dramatically in the classroom?
A - I can only speak from my experience. As this year has progressed and the students steadily moved through their workbooks, I never saw material neglected or taught at an accelerated pace. And not once did I feel that they were learning something irrelevant. I will say that the coverage of Social Studies and Science has been a bit light this year.
Q - Aren't you concerned that it is big corporations driving standardized testing?
A - There is a lot of concern that Pearson is driving the bus when it comes to the latest round of standardized testing. It's a logical argument. They have their hands in every aspect of the education process. That is concerning. It is also worth considering who benefits as the "Opt-out" movement grows. Movements by parents for their children is entirely logical. However, I find it a conflict of interest when teachers begin pushing this cause.
Q - Isn't a teacher supposed to advocate on their students behalf?
A - Absolutely! However, the fact that this test is being used to assess both student and teacher does create a conflict of interest.
Q - Do you think it is fair to use these test results for teacher assessments?
A - The results should be a part of the teacher assessments. However, they are too heavily weighted. It is not fair to make this count for fifty percent of their annual assessment. But, this should not play a role in my decision as a parent for my child. This is an issue for the teachers, teachers union and school leadership.
Q - What do you think of the allegations that some of the material tested is beyond grade level achievement?
A - This wouldn't surprise me. Standardized testing is to test all aptitude levels within one grade. So, it is reasonable that a segment of students would find the test very challenging.
Q - But doesn't that just add frustration for the student, while he/she is taking the test?
A - This is where proper preparation pays off. In working with my girls, I have taught them to work through the test, answering the questions they can and marking the questions that are posing some difficulty. Then go back and work on the "tough" questions. It is also important that the child understand that the test will be tough. And, that this does not mean that they are stupid.
Q - You really think that this will take the pressure off the student?
A - Every household will determine how important or unimportant the tests are. Children don't want to fail and they don't want to let their parents down. They also don't want to be rebuked for doing badly. So, it all comes down to how you prep your child and how you react once the scores come in. In my home we did our best to fortify our kids test taking challenges during our prep. Once the test was taken, we told them we were proud of their efforts and moved on.
Q - Why are you so willing to go along with this testing?
A - Over the years we have seen a variety of educational rankings that doesn't seem to ever find our country in the top 10. The older I get the more opportunity (in the form of jobs) I see get moved out of this country into another. Sadly a reasonable percentage of these countries do land in or much nearer the top 10 than we do. My assessment, trying a new approach to education isn't a bad idea. Just as I am open to this present course, I would have been just as open to No Child Left Behind, Whole Language etc.
Q - Doesn't this trial and error with curriculum turn our children into guinea pigs? Don't they deserve better?
A - It is frustrating that every 8 years or so we see a new curriculum blow into town, This leaves students in a tough spot having to re-calibrate their learnings. However, if something isn't work, we shouldn't keep going with it for the sake of consistency. But, I think we can all agree that given our educational standing in the world, we can do better.
Q - What do you think of parents who choose to opt-out?
A - This is their choice and I respect their right to make it. Parents know their children and I would expect them to make the choice that is in the best interest of their child. Each family has their own values and I expect them to make decisions that match their values. I recently read a blog of a family who chose to opt-out based on the conflict testing posed to their Unitarian faith. It's their choice.
However, I am concerned about the optics. Just a month ago in Bihar, India the internet was flooded with pictures of parents scaling the walls of a school to help their children cheat on some very important exams. Then last week, the news was filled with interviews and pictures of American parents keeping their children from taking exams. There is a line of thinking that we shouldn't care what the rest of the world thinks of us. That is what freedom is all about right? To the rest of the world freedom is about opportunity. And I agree with that definition of freedom.