4.18.2011

Measurement of Success...or Stress?

I posted a recent article that appeared in the Huffington Post* on my facebook page, just to encourage a dialogue. Be careful what you wish for. The very first question was "Is opting out an option?"

Here is the thing. Opting out is an option. And while opting out for some is less social protest and more saving the sanity of their child, it really isn't their (our child's) role to demonstrate our disdain and frustration for these tests, it is our role as parent advocates to speak out about testing, and asking that this (testing) not carry the weight it does in NCLB/ESEA. We also can encourage our schools to not spend money on tee shirts, pencils, stickers, and other incentives (like after the test celebrations) as well as encourage our schools to not have a pre-test Rally. Yes, I know that a Rally can be handled with a level of awareness that recognizes that giving a medal to those who scored the highest should not be singled because those that scored lower might feel more self conscious. But more often than not, during the celebration those that were the higher achievers get the cheers, and those that were average (?) less than average (?) what do they get? Not a medal, not their name called out for recognition. How do they then feel inspired to achieve more?

It is perhaps these things that create the unhealthy pressure and negative attitude toward these tests (by children and adults as well) that ultimately can negatively impact scores. I have received more facebook posts about how stressed out their kids are about these tests. Who created that pressure? Unintentionally the system that puts pressure on the schools to pass AYP puts pressure on the teachers to pass AYP which puts pressure on the kids to pass AYP...even though the kids have no idea what AYP is. Do you?**

Now it gets complicated. Because while so many of us are frustrated by these tests, we are caught in a catch-22 recognizing that if we choose to have our child opt out then we are inadvertantly impacting the ability our child's school has to show that they are "successful" based on NCLB standard (that AYP again). So, right now even though many of us don't like it, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that most don't agree with it, our schools are going to be judged by the results of our children's efforts on these tests. Others (other parents, other districts, other educators, "others") look at these scores and judge our schools, staff, and students (as a whole more often than as individuals based on the results of these tests.)

For clarification: my sons will be testing. But I completely understand those who have opted to have their child/ren opt out. In our house we do not talk about the test. We go to bed as we normally do. We get up and have breakfast as we do every other day of the school year. We treat every day as valuable and important when it comes to education, and these tests are just another part of their school day. Thankfully, my kids don't have test phobia or worry about these tests (they understand that this is a part of school and just do their best, which is all I ask of them on any given day for any given assignment anyway), but I know many children who do have test phobias and who will no doubt be struggling through the next few weeks. I really hate that for those kids, their teachers, their schools, and mostly their families, who probably feel as if they are sending their kids off to experience a groundhog day version of "the worst day of school ever" in however that child defines the worst day there could ever be at school. I believe EVERY day of school is IMPORTANT,  so why not a Rally for the day that a student who has struggled with reading finally finishes a book? Or a Rally for the Science Fair? WE have sadly created a climate in education where students are afraid to fail. And isn't part of education learning from mistakes and missteps?

Once upon a time, in a land that looks not so dissimilar to the place we now live in, kids took tests and there wasn't a rally, or a medal, or a special tee-shirt giveaway. There wasn't a big after a test party. Children went to school, took a test, ate lunch, went home. The end. (Of course this was before NCLB when tests were a measurement of learning by the child as a way to help a child and not a way to measure the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of a teacher or school. Children should not be made to feel RESPONSIBLE for the success of a school.

I disagree with solely using these tests as an evaluative measure of success or failure of our schools. That is why I am a PTA member: to advocate, not fundraise. I encourage you (and urge you) to help me (and others) advocate for change.  I know that  for all of us testing, failing schools, just everything in education feels so overwhelming at times, especially for a parent/family who is struggling with foreclosure, joblessness, or working two jobs, etc. that "to test or not to test" isn't something that they feel equiped to emotionally/mentally handle when gas just went up to $4 a gallon. Test? What does a test mean when you don't have a home, or your kids don't have a dinner, or a place to rest. But I do wish more parents didn't think that advocacy means attending a board of education meeting, or that advocacy is something that someone else does. Advocacy is about engaging in this conversation and asking "what next?"

I do know this much: "when spider webs unite they can tie up a lion"

So, as our state accountability system changes dramatically next year (SB1 begins to be implemented along with the Common Core State Standards) but this, in it's own way, will amplifies the importance of this year’s results. So, let's begin at the begining. What can we do together to make a difference so that when Finn is in third grade we don't have to have this conversation. She starts kindergarten next fall. The clock is ticking....

*The article that started it all http://www.huffingtonpost.com/will-richardson/standardized-testing-prep-rally_b_848662.html


Read also http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/resistance-to-test-based-school-reform-is-growing/2011/04/18/AFkb0n0D_blog.html Valerie Strauss, Washington Post

**AYP is Adequate Yearly Performance. is a measurement defined by the United States federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that allows the U.S. Department of Education to determine how every public and school district in the country is performing academically according to results on standardized tests. Private schools do not have to make AYP. Those that do not meet AYP for two years in a row are identified as "schools in need of improvement" and are subject to immediate interventions. States must increase student achievement in gradual increments in order for 100 percent of the students to become proficient on state assessments by the 2013-14 school year.

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