Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Standardized Test Prep Fanatisism in Our Schools

I don't dislike public schools.  I want to support public education.  I think community is important. That's why I'm going to be critical of what is happening with the standardized testing environment in public schools today.

The standardized testing season has come around for my elementary aged kiddos.  We had a pretty nice dinner table conversation a few days ago about the lengths educators go to with our dear children to help them perform well on their tests.  I was frankly disgusted by what they divulged, but grateful to know all the same.

I took to Google and found that to my dismay, this is going on all over the country.  Are we going to wake up?  I hope so.  Here is some reading on the subject:
Here's our experience with standardized testing this year. 

Over a month before the standardized tests, I brought home a laminated magnet (I'm talkin' the thick, expensive laminate) from parent-teacher conference.  The magnet was to serve as a reminder to parents of the dates of the test and how we can help our kids prepare:  Help them get a good night's rest, make sure they have a good breakfast in the morning, encourage your child to do their best, talk to them about the test after they take it.  I was also encouraged to write a note of encouragement to my child that they could read before took the test. (My son did not want me to do it.)

My children described the assembly/pep rally they recently had at their school with a mocking tone.  They had to sit and watch their teachers/administrators dance onstage to music, wearing their matching "Rock the Test" t-shirts.  My children told me it was embarrassing to watch.  Then there was the chanting: "Rock the Test."  My son told me he'd rather be at the library than participating in that assembly.  I don't blame him.

My daughter told me about how her teacher last year gave them mints before the test to help quell their hunger/thirst during the test and perhaps boost brain power (Google it).  So, my first thought is, they are hopping up my kids before the test with performance enhancing substances???  :)  I tend to over-react.  But really.

The day before the tests, my son tells me that in his class they take formatives.  My son had to explain what they were.  I had no idea. Formative are practice tests. Okay, I remember taking practice tests in school too.  But not how they do now.  The routine is, they take the practice test.  It is scored, and then the teacher announces to the class what the class average is.  The teachers encourages the class to try harder if the score is not up to snuff.  If  the average is below 80%, they take it again.  The teacher tells the kids if the class gets above a certain class average, he'll let them shave his head. 

I could tell my son was upset about all this, but didn't really get just how upsetting it was until before bed.  He was visibly upset.  Here they want the kids to get a good night's rest before the test, but how could he with all the talk of test, test, test for over a month?  Do educators understand that with this test prep push, they are actually transferring their stress onto some of the students?  Obviously there are some children who will not be adversely affected by the test prep frenzy.  Yet, there are some who will be.

Does the test prep fanaticism actually do any good?  Does it boost test scores?  Who knows.  I'd really like schools to take a serious look at it.  As a parent, I am upset at the continued culture of teaching to the test.  Our system is broken.  Our focus is skewed.  I don't have the answers, but I can see the problems.  And recognizing the problem can be the beginning of the solution.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Crayon in the Wash!

My latest laundry disaster happened on a busy day at a busy time.  While pulling the laundry out of the dryer, I found the remains of a red crayon.  I sighed a very troubled sigh because I knew what I was in for...

This has happened before, but luckily it only affected a few clothes.   To get the crayon out, I sprayed the crayon stain with vinegar and rubbed some baking soda on top and laundered the stained clothes again.  The crayon came out fine.

But this current mess was terrible!  EVERY bit of laundry I pulled out of the dryer had red crayon spots.  Good thing the mess was the the kids laundry and not mine. That's just me looking on the bright side!  My mind considered for a minute having my kids pre-treat the entire load once they got home from school, but I knew that wouldn't go over well for anyone.

So, what was I to do?  I had very little time that day.  I Googled the issue.  Many advised treating the spots with WD-40 and then laundering it all.again.  Considering that the scope of my problem, this avenue seemed too time consuming.  Plus, I wasn't interested in getting high on WD-40.  I read other things about using vinegar, baking soda, and washing with hot wash water.  I figured re-washing the load was worth a try before I resorted to the painstaking process of pre-treating every item of clothing.  So, here's what I did.  I put everything back in the washer (I have a front loader) and put in my regular amount of detergent (1T of Tide) in the dispenser along with a  1/2 cup of borax, 1/4 cup of baking powder, and 1/4 cup washing soda.  Then I added some vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser as well.

Note:  The above measurements aren't exact.  I just threw in what I had on hand... all things that I know work well for cleaning.

Once the washer filled with water (I washed it in warm water), I allowed the load to soak for about 2 hours and then continued the wash cycle.  To my relief and amazement, most everything came out just fine!  A couple of clothes needed pretreatment, but this was far more manageable than the entire load.

Judging from my track record, I'm sure I'll find crayon in the laundry again. Have you? Chances are, if you have children, it is only a matter of time.