A 12-year-old student was having repeated nightmares – not from watching a scary movie, but from her test-prep.
If you have kids in public school grades three to eight, you know the drill. But in case you don't: this week and next, young children at elementary and the middle school are sitting for up to 90 minute stretches at time, throughout the course of the school day, for three days each week, to take the very demanding state exams in English Language Arts and Math that determine the success – or failure in the case of a last year – of our system.
At least one local mom, Lisa Knight, the mother of the aforementioned 12-year-old and another daughter at WI, is having none of it. “I will be sending my children to school and they will not be taking state exams,” Knight said.
On the first day her daughters were allowed to sit in another room and not take the tests, Knight recounted, but school officials seemed to have mixed messages on what to do next. By the end of the day, the principal of one school and the assistant principal of the other reportedly told Knight that if her children weren't going to take the tests, they needn't to stay home as "unexcused absences."
Knight describes administrators as “less than supportive." She has also tried to engage the educators in honest conversation to find out what they really think about the testing but is met with “hesitation and researched answers. I have yet to have anyone say they think [the tests] are great and why do they look like someone just killed their cat when asked?”
Knight clarified that she's had a very positive experience thus far with the schools here and the teachers. “My daughter...has an awesome and dedicated teacher; I trust her with my child's education. The middle school has amazing teachers also, I could not be more pleased,” she said, adding, “If I need to know how my child is doing, I look to them. Not some random company getting paid to make a test that is in my opinion flawed.”
We pretend that these tests aren't judgements but they are. Who wants to attend the school with the low test scores... Teachers are under so much pressure, not to mention our poor children... These tests are not about the kids. They chastise teachers when they should support them. School budgets are constantly getting cut. Teachers get less and less but are expected to raise those scores every year or else... If they really want to see improvement, I say we take all that money being used on the state test and give it to the schools. Let's put that money where it belongs, in the class rooms. Now that would be something. I hope more parents will make the choice to not have their child participate in state testing. It's time for change. I'm not sure what it will be like for my girls at school tomorrow but we are committed to taking a stand. We will continue to opt out.
Opting out, however, is not an option.
“The bottom line is it's the law,” said District Superintendent Dr. Howard Smith. The “law” is the controversial No Child Left Behind program, bequeathed to us from the Bush era in the 1990s and “kind of on life support,” Smith said.
Smith said the entire Scarsdale district tried to opt out of the new testing in the early 2000s, but they were unsuccessful. He pointed to grassroots parent protest groups starting now in Long Island and in NYC.
“I don't begrudge parents putting their foot down,” Smith said. “But it does have consequences.”
The consequences Smith cited are “not hitting the target percentage we are supposed to for participation.” The whole district, he said, gets penalized. “It's high stakes for us.” By penalized, he clarified that we could get less in state aid for underperformance, with the budget cuts that go with that; not to mention the downgrade in school status that hurts everyone.
Smith also made the point that if these tests were optional, then a school could potentially pick and choose only the smartest students to take the tests. “We do not want either the parents or the schools cherry-picking who takes the test,” he said.
However, Smith bashed the tests as much as Knight did. He said the tests are “almost deliberately designed to trick a kid to go to the wrong answer,” with much of it “really esoteric for little kids to wrap their heads around.”
Reading comprehension, essay writing – this is not just fill-in-the-bubbles stuff, and it requires endurance.
Smith described “kids sitting for a long time doing artificial kinds of tasks.” He sympathized with the anxiety the test-prep, the test-taking, and the test results might induce in both children, parents, and educators. But, everyone's hands are tied until No Child Left Behind gets changed (unlikely, Smith said, during a Presidential election year). There is some hope, he said, in the waiver New York State is applying for, which should revise “some of the ways students are assessed and how it counts.”
In the meantime, all we can do, Smith said, is "try to make it tolerable,” he said. He said teachers try not to let the preparation leading up to the exams “dominate everything we do. We want a balanced well-rounded program.”
Overall, Smith admitted it's “a very negative process, all built around doing things to avoid penalties.”
What will happen to Knight's kids if they are forced to stay home from school for two weeks? “When they come back, they'll take the make-up exam,” Smith said.
Knight's not going to let that happen. “The official position from the administrators is that I can't choose to opt out, my response to them was, I already have.”
Do you have kids in TUFSD elementary/middle school? How do you feel about the testing? Weigh in in the comments.