As a kid, I used to look forward to standardized testing days. For us, it was the CTBS tests, and it meant a day or two of testing and playing board games and eating snacks with our friends when the testing was over. It was a welcome change to the routine of school. It came and went, and at some point I’m sure our parents got the results in the mail. I have no idea.
Anyone with a child in public school now knows that the carefree testing situation is a thing of the past, much like the slap bracelets and Hyper-colored shirts we used to wear.
Last year my third grader, Joey, who was recently diagnosed with a language processing issue, went from a kid who loved school and felt smart, to a kid who was terrified of failing the FCAT and called himself stupid on a daily basis. Unfortunately for Joey, the major skills that the FCAT tested were being able to inference, pick out a main idea, and answer multiple-choice questions, the very skills he struggles with.
His sweet teacher, whose actual salary depends on how her students score, constantly reminded the class how important this test was, and how the students could be held back if they failed. They took practice tests. They took more practice tests. They attended pep rallies just for the FCAT. Joey came home crying multiple days in a row before the test, concerned that he would fail and be held back. If a child fails the FCAT, they can prove that they know all of the skills in isolation by taking a series of smaller benchmark tests. Because his practice test scores were low, his teacher, on top of everything else she had to do, administered 15 benchmark tests (made up of five smaller tests each) just in case Joey was to fail.
Pretty much every day for weeks leading up to the test, poor Joey was subjected to repeated testing on the skills that he struggles with over and over again. He was pulled out of class to work with a reading coach. He asked me repeatedly why he was being tested so much. Even though he maintained a B or a C the entire school year in reading, he was still at risk for having to repeat the third grade. The whole experience was brutal for his ego.
This summer I read a lot about the “Opt Out Movement.” Parents who oppose the standardized tests are keeping their kids home on testing days. The kids don’t take the test, and depending on the laws for their state, teachers have to prove that their students have the skills needed to move on to the next grade. It sounds great! I considered it for a while.
Let me tell you why we will NOT be opting out.
1. I believe in public schools. I grew up in the county where my kids currently attend school. The school system has been nothing but great to me and my family. Joey’s teachers and principals have been supportive, encouraging, and make sure he has every tool he needs to be successful. While I may not agree with every decision made for the testing and curriculum, I stand by the teachers and administrators who are left to deal with the decisions being made at the state level. If enough students opted out, the schools wouldn’t get the funding from the state. Talk about making a bad problem even worse!
2. If Joey doesn’t have to take the standardized test that the rest of his peers are taking, what message does that send to him? It tells him that the rules apply to everyone except for him. This is not a message I am willing to send.
Will it be stressful? Probably. Will he feel dumb? Maybe. These are all things we can help him through. I’m certain that kids felt stressed and dumb way before standardized tests were even a thing. That’s what parenting is for. These are all valuable life lessons.
I promise not to let my kids hear me complain about the standardized tests. I promise not to let my kids hear me moan about the ridiculous Common Core curriculum when they ask me for help with their homework, and talk about how we learned it differently in my day. I’ll save those conversations for the adults in my life. In the meantime, I’ll help Joey prepare the best I can for school and for life.
After all was said and done, Joey and his teacher called me on the last day of school last year, both crying with joy to tell me that not only did he pass every single benchmark test, he even passed the FCAT. PHEW!