At work we are facing the end of the trimester, which means report cards are going to be due and parent conferences are coming up. It’s a busy time. Additionally, we are preparing to take the PARCC test, which is the national standardized test that is supposed to cover the new common core standards. The test is just a huge ball of nonsense, which is why only ten states are giving it (I believe there were 26 signed on a few years ago.) The test makers must have thought, “Hey look, we’re giving a test on a computer! Let’s add a bazillion computer based tools that kids don’t really need, because we can! We’ll have an answer eliminator tool, we’ll have embedded videos, and a bunch of other crap that will be really hard to navigate! It will totally distract the kids from the actual content of the test, and if they accidentally click on to the next question without scrolling all the way down to the hidden content on the previous question, then they’ll get it wrong!”
It’s the equivalent of an early Geocities web page with blinking text and an embedded midi file set to autoplay.
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it.
But don’t worry, parents, it won’t take away from instructional time. Except for the two hours we spent “testing the network.” Oh, and the hour that we had to spend giving them a practice test. Oh, and the other hour where we showed them the myriad tools. So that’s what, four hours? Oh, and then there’s the 14 hours of actual testing. So, really, what’s 18 hours? I mean, what, are you going to teach them to think critically and prepare them to be global citizens? Like they’ll need that.
I was thinking about test anxiety because I got a note from my daughter’s second grade teacher. Apparently, Fiona has been saying that she doesn’t feel well – always around Math time. When I asked her about it, she said that she was nervous about passing Rocket Math – it’s a timed math facts program. Apparently, the teacher told the class that anybody who didn’t make it to subtraction would get a “2” on their report card for Math facts. A “2” means “Developing.” I’m sure she didn’t mean to stress any of the kids out; it’s true that if you don’t master your facts then you are still “developing” that skill. But it was enough to make her fake an illness. I don’t think that children should be comfortable all the time – a little stress can be a good thing – but if we overdo it then the returns diminish rapidly.
I told Fiona that avoiding the problem would actually make it worse, not better. And that we’d practice at home a little more. And that I didn’t really care about a “2” on her report card. A “2” would be an accurate description of where she’s at right now – she’s developing her computation skills.
I’ve noticed that this anxiety gets ramped up in a major way by middle school. I’ve marveled at the sheer number of 11-year-olds that suffer from anxiety of all types – anxiety about tests, about storms, about social interactions. I’ve taught many students with legal IEPs and 504 plans that document anxiety as disabling factor in their learning.
They’re eleven! Why are they stressed out?
In some cases I think they are over-scheduled. And some of the high-achieving students feel the pressure to perform at school, in band, and at sports. Our school counselors have had to go into the gifted classes to talk about managing anxiety. This is a great service, but these kids shouldn’t be so anxious in the first place. What are we doing to them?
I live and work in a community of high achievers. And it’s hard to avoid the rat race myself. Bromleigh and I wonder if we should be doing more programming for our children. Should we be pushing for gifted classes? We don’t want our kids to fall behind.
This is madness, of course. Fiona is in Girl Scouts and takes piano lessons once a week from a high-schooler. I think that’s about our speed. She just got done taking a sewing class, and one Monday we had to go from Girl Scouts (right after school) directly to the sewing class, and then from there we went right to piano lessons. She didn’t eat dinner until 7:30, and had no down time. That was a bit much.
Still, she had fun, and wants to sign up for more things. Fortunately our own inertia as parents will probably aid us in our goal to avoid over-scheduling her.
What else is contributing to the stress? I think the kids feel the weight of all the testing. Every year there is more and more of it. My 7-year old took a standardized test this year. And while we can tell them to “do their best” and that the results will just “provide information,” they know the real deal. These tests are used to place them into classes. Score well, and you’re “accelerated.” Have a bad day and you need an “intervention.”
And though school administrators and teachers do their best to project an aura of serene calm, the kids can pick up on their stress, too. If the scores aren’t good, the community will wonder why that North Shore district did better. If the scores aren’t good, then the school will lose funding. And coming soon, if the scores aren’t good, then a whole bunch of teachers are going to get fired.
(I know a bunch of politicians have fallen in love with charter schools – or at least the campaign contributions the corporations behind those charter schools give them – but this has been done in Chicago. They’ve done wholesale firings in CPS schools and replaced them with charters. The results? The same scores. Turns out the kids are still poor and hungry and victimized by violence.)
Yes, the kids pick up on our stress, despite our best efforts to hide it from them. They internalize it.
Kids are smart.
But how can I even know that if I don’t test them?