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.

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