No, it isn’t the joyful winter holiday season. Nope, it isn’t the crisp, cool start to football season. Actually, it isn’t even tax season anymore. It’s worse. It’s testing season!
Teachers across the United States are up-ing their anti-stress prescription dosages, buying stock in Red Bull and biting their finger nails to the quick. Students are suffering from proverbial spring fever as the birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and cries of “Play Ball!” fill the air. Yet many of them are also suffering from untold personal pressure, parental pushing, and panic by teachers. Administrators can’t get their hands on enough tutors, test prep materials and number 2 pencils (please, principals, at least splurge for the ones with the good erasers). A swine flu pandemic is sweeping our continent and I would dare to say that our schools are suffering from a much greater, and more detrimental, fate.
Let’s talk about the kids for a minute. Picture an 8 year old. Yes, a freckle faced kid who is just learning to play kid-pitch baseball, a kid who still wears SpiderMan pajamas and carries a security blanket (but not when spending the night with a friend). Now picture that same kid, stomach in knots, doubled over a chair in physical pain over the stress of an 8 passage, 56 question reading test and two days worth of 70 math word problems. Imagine a 10 year old boy, the kind that is “super macho,” having an emotional break down mid-way through a final test in 5th grade that will determine whether he gets to go to middle school or not. Is this age appropriate? Is it measuring knowledge, memorization, stamina or simply stress management?
Now picture the teachers. We don’t sleep. We spend countless hours planning on the best ways to prepare our students for a test that will supposedly measure their learning and our proficiency as teachers. We wrestle internally and externally with the thoughts of our students who have grown 2 grade levels this year under our care, but they still aren’t where they need to be. We turn a blind eye when children who are rationing their school lunches (so they and their siblings will be able to eat something for supper) sneak food out of the cafeteria. We lose sleep wondering what will happen the mornings of testing at the bus stop, in the kitchen, or worse. And most painfully for the pure educator in us, we wage an internal battle between external pressures to prepare students to pass a test and personal beliefs in the best ways to reach and teach children… especially when our livelihoods may be on the line.
This is the gruesome reality of high stakes testing. Children are being taught day in and day out, but are they learning? And what exactly are they learning? They are learning that when you are asked a question about building a fence, hanging wallpaper border or framing a picture, they are really asking about perimeter. They are learning that reading means answering a series of multiple choice questions. They are learning that kids with the “fancy” fraction calculators are taking the same tests as those with the 4 function ones. Kids are learning that education is not about the questions that they ask, but rather the questions that they answer.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in accountability. I believe in standards. In fact, I champion the idea of high expectations and assuring that all children are given access to achieve their personal best. I just believe that personal best cannot be tested in a secure setting over the course of three days. Becoming a mother has changed me in countless ways (and not just my waistline). Now that my twin boys are in kindergarten, watching their experience in school is altering my own philosophy of teaching and learning. How will I determine if my children have had a successful school year?
- They still love school. Nothing will kill the dreams and ambitions of a child faster than a negative experience with school. If my boys are still excited about coming to school again next year, my greatest battle has been won.
- They are persistent in solving problems. I don’t want my kids to get everything easily. I don’t care if they can’t tie their shoes yet, even though most of their classmates can. I am not worried that they still occasionally struggle with coming up with rhyming words. Do my children approach these problems with a strategy of attack and a notion of determination? Are they learning to approach these problems with a variety of strategies?
- They have an opinion. I know that all parents out there see our children being full of personal opinions, many of which are opposite of our own. Heavens, I know. But, I want my child to challenge the idea of a status quo. I want them to ask questions, make decisions and evaluate information. Hopefully, their teachers are not only tolerating this, but they are encouraging it.
- They are thirsty. When we give children open access to knowledge and information, they are likes sponges. We get tired of hearing “Why? Why? Why?” when they are toddlers, but that curiosity must be fostered.
If my children walk away from school each year being proficient in these areas, I will be thrilled with their education. Imagine that child. Picture that teacher. I certainly have an entirely different image in my mind of that teaching/learning/testing experience.
Is this possible? Or is it simply something for me to add to my seasonal wishlist? I choose to say “Bah Humbug” to the traditional, high stakes testing season and “Happy New Year” to a new focus on the student as learner, not the student as tester. ‘Tis the Season!