Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Standardized Test: These Words Disgust Me

Standardized test.  These two words paired together just get under my skin and I find them quite disgusting.  Creating an educational system where these two words are the focus of our children's learning is a crying shame.  While there is no doubt the educational system in our country is in need of an overhaul, putting more emphasis on testing, completely revamping the content that our children are taught, and creating new, ridiculously complicated ways to teach skills (simple subtraction, for example) is like driving the car the wrong way on a one-way street.  It's wrong, and quite frankly, should also be in violation of the law.

I firmly believe our schools began to suffer when No Child Left Behind was introduced.  It happened to be my first year teaching, and while I wasn't directly impacted because I was teaching early childhood special education, I heard the teachers in my building talking about tests...a lot.  Their instructional content seemed to become more restricted and, unfortunately, teachers felt pressured to "teach to the test."  Now it seems with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative the noose has been tightened even more.  Not only are we tightening the grip on the content being taught, but the strategies that are being implemented to teach skills, especially in math, are time-consuming, confusing, and, in my opinion, unnecessary.   

I fully understand that children need to be assessed and our teachers need to be accountable for student learning.  It is imperative to see the strengths and areas that need improvement, but why does the government not value utilizing additional ways to assess student learning other than requiring them to sit down at a specific time, several days in a row filling in the bubbles (or, from what I understand, clicking the mouse in the near-future) to give us a true, well-rounded picture of each child?  

The emphasis put on these results is absurd.  Our children are not robots and there are too many outside factors (anxiety, lack of sleep, hunger, special needs, socioeconomic status, primary language, disturbances at home, etc.) affecting test performance to solely rely on these results to demonstrate academic understanding.  The fact that this snippet of information is used to determine a teacher's proficiency, as well as funding for our schools, is equally absurd.  

As a parent, I don't want my children's "self-worth" to be determined by how they have performed on a standardized test.  I value creativity, thinking out of the box, and exploring personal interests to make learning more meaningful.  I don't find it necessary for my son to break down a problem into five steps to complete a simple subtraction problem he could compute in less than 5 seconds.  I know I am not the only parent who feels this way. 

In my eyes, however, there is one more missing piece to this puzzle that cannot be easily assessed:  parental involvement. These test scores are used to hold our teachers accountable, but we, as parents, need to be held accountable, too.  It is our job to make education the priority in our children's lives.  It seems we have wandered away from this way of thinking and it is our kids who are suffering.  There are so many distractions, from extracurricular activities to video games and everything in between, that we have forgotten what is truly important.  Our children need down time.  They need to have time for unstructured play, to sit at a table and eat as a family more often than not, to have the opportunity to speak and be heard, and to get their rest.  As parents we need to emphasize the importance of completing homework, reading, and providing opportunities for our kids to explore their personal interests.  It surely doesn't have to be boring.  Get creative at home and make learning fun!  As a community, we need to help those around us who may not have these opportunities.  Safe after school programs offering homework assistance, family math and literacy nights in our schools, and volunteer tutoring are great ways to reach kids who may need extra help.  Donating used books to shelters or schools who may need them can help get books in the hands of children in need.  Supporting programs that help children who are at-risk may make a difference in the lives of many as well .  Don't be afraid to get your family involved!  Raising empathetic, caring kids can make such a positive impact in our communities.

The government may feel the pressure to "compete successfully in the global economy," but I, as a parent, do not feel that the solution they have imposed upon our children is in their best interest.  I am not willing to idly sit by and do nothing, are you?  We each have a voice, and although it may not always be heard, we do have a voice.  Write your legislators or sign a state and national petition to eliminate the Common Core.  Take a stand for your children and the future of our educational system.  What have you got to lose?



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