Testing Season and Why Everyone Should Opt Out

Testing season at my elementary school begins after February break and ends with the conclusion of the state math tests in mid-April. Like many schools, our students are subject to test prep “units” at this time of year that include practice tests, stamina building exercises and test taking skill “explorations.” It is the worst time of year for teachers, students and families, yet at my school, inexplicably, no one is speaking out and no one is opting out.

So to parents out there, here’s what really happens in testing season…

  1. No one teaches science or social studies for 3 months. The number of teachers who have told me ” Oh I’m only doing read alouds for science because of test prep” or “we’ll do that activity after testing” is disturbingly high. This time of year, its all about those 3 Rs. This is a reality across the board- whether schools do a test prep “unit” or do test prep all year- science and social studies always get cut. 30 years from now when we are faced with the next global warming like debate, we can thank high stakes testing for our ignorance.
  2. Reading, writing and math become exclusively pencil and paper tasks and last all day. Reading, writing and math can and should be engaging and meaningful, but in test prep season kids often don’t get to choose what they read or write about, and are fed poorly written passage after passage. Kids should be reading books! Not passages followed by short responses and multiple choice questions. Besides, what’s the point of writing if you’re not allowed to write about anything interesting? ( like STORIES! Remember when kids used to write stories?)
  3. No trips, no fun,  no emotional support. There is so much pressure on teachers to get high scores- so not only is the academic curriculum narrowed to ELA and math, but many teachers sacrifice all the things that keep kids motivated and foster social skills- like trips, games and opportunities for play. At my school we’re not allowed to go on trips with 3rd-5th graders for all of testing season. We all know that what children need to learn is uninterrupted practice with reading packets and multiple choice questions… Oh wait, is that it?
  4. Even students who have disabilities, or are English language learners have to test prep. Even if they can’t read. At all. They have to “practice”  too. I had a student cry for over 30 minutes the other day because his classroom teacher was going to make him finish his ELA packet. He is a smart and vivacious kid who is normally super excited to come to my class and always had great ideas. But he cried for the whole period. The whole period.
  5. The homework gets insane. Like packets on top of packets. Plus many schools have Saturday classes for extra test prep! Because every day and night is not enough!
  6. Everyone is grumpy.  This might not seem important, but you try teaching 30 grumpy, jittery, stressed out kids or leading a staff meeting with angry, sleep deprived teachers. Let me know how that goes.
  7. Finally, it trickles down. All this testing frenzy does absolutely trickle down to the younger grades. Especially in testing season. It is around this time of year that the administration “suggests” incorporating testing language and skills for kids as young as pre-k and we are told to plan ways for first graders to be more “test ready.”

I recently had a conversation with a parent about the impending state tests. This is a parent who has told me that she is thinking about withdrawing both her children from our school and sending them to a progressive private school because, as she put it,  “they’re bored.”

She said that she wasn’t planning on opting out her children because they hadn’t expressed any specific anxieties about taking the tests. Then she told me that they don’t like school anymore and that is why she is thinking about transferring to a private school.

Parents out there- if your child is bored at this time of year, it is because of testing. If your child is especially frustrated and emotional at this time of year, it is because of testing. If your child has suddenly stopped going on trips or learning anything in science and social studies, it is because of testing. If your child is coming home with boatloads of homework that make no sense to you, it is because of testing. If your child hates school and finds it all too hard and confusing, that’s probably in some part because of testing too. If any of this sounds all too familiar- you should OPT YOUR KID OUT.

Send a message that a narrowed, autocratic, undifferentiated, and developmentally inappropriate curriculum is not OK for any child!

There are some lucky schools out there where the administration eschews test prep and almost all the students opt out. And you know what they do at those schools?  They teach. And learn. Real stuff. Projects. Science. Social Studies. Critical thinking. Art.

All children deserve real learning. All children deserve differentiated teaching that meets their needs, not the agendas of corporate reformers. All children deserve to be engaged, respected and inspired at school.  Even during testing season. OPT OUT.

 

 

 

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The Myth of College Readiness

Just because children have to do something when they grow up does not mean it is appropriate for elementary school students. 6 year olds are not college students. Not yet.

I am so tired of “college readiness” being used to justify innumerable teaching mandates that are not developmentally appropriate. For instance- the common core shift to non-fiction in writing and reading, or there was that time my principal told us to use testing language with first graders, and then of course, the pages of homework being sent home starting in kindergarten. I don’t care what they have to do in college- 5 and 6 year olds should be writing stories, not essays, using language that makes sense for them and playing, not filling out worksheets after school.

You know what else college students should probably be prepared for? Sex. But no one has mandated that teachers introduce kindergarteners to details of STD prevention. Because it is not appropriate! They are not ready!

One teacher at my school recently told me that she thought taking tests in 3rd grade was important practice for the SATs. Wait. A. Second. So we need to be preparing kids for the SATs almost 10 years before they take them? Taking a 3 hour test might be developmentally appropriate for 17 year olds. But make no mistake, no matter what anyone tells you, any seated task that lasts more than 40 minutes is not developmentally appropriate for a typical 8 year old.

If we really want our elementary school kids to be “college ready”, we can…

a. Make college affordable so they actually have the option of going.

b. Offer them rich, sensory, creative and meaningful learning experiences so that they love school and develop some of the non-academic skills that actually matter in college – self motivation and self control, executive functioning and organization, independence and the ability to problem solve and communicate.

c. Meet kids’ needs in the here and now. Stop worrying about what they need to do when they are 18. You know what they need to do right now? Eat breakfast every day. Button their coats. Make friends. Solve problems. Feel emotionally and physically safe. Read books they love. Write stories. Do experiments. Play outside. Dig in the dirt.

Imagine if doctors started telling parents that their babies should practice walking immediately upon emergence from the womb. We have to prepare them now for the walking they’ll do later in life, they might say. Make sure you stand them up on 2 feet right after they are born so that they get a head start. And then just let go, they’ll be just fine.

That is what we’re doing to our children in far too many schools, all for the sake of college readiness. Enough.

 

Why Teachers and Parents Should Vote for Bernie

K-12 education has not been a topic in the democratic primaries, leaving public school educators and parents wondering who would be most likely to scale down federal and state education “reform.”

So why should public school teachers, opt-out parents and anyone who believes in public education support Bernie Sanders?

Here are 6 reasons.

  1. Sanders voted against No Child Left Behind, the grandfather of Ed reform. .
  2. Sanders is skeptical of “alternative routes” to certification: ex: TFA, Relay, Teacher U= replacing lifetime educators with short lived script followers.
  3. He said this: “Something is very wrong when, last year, the top 25 hedge fund managers earned more than the combined income of 425,000 public school teachers. We have to get our priorities right.” He also has talked about investing more $ in public schools and replacing the use of property taxes to raise money for schools because of the inequality that system creates.
  4. Vermont is one of the few states that does not allow charter schools. Rather they allow for school choice within the public school system. This brings a valuable perspective to the table.
  5. Sanders is the only real pro-labor major candidate in recent history. If anyone is going to support unionized teachers- at public schools or unionized charters, it is Bernie.
  6. Neoliberalism has been very bad for education. Hillary is the quintessential neoliberal. Think the punitive test and punish/ test and underfund of Race to the Top, think school closures, think corporate consultants invading schools, think Bill Gates and his campaign for testing and the common core, think the de-professionalization of teaching and the feds buddying up to tech companies and big business to “reform” schools. Think about what has been like to be a teacher for the last 8 years- punishingly demoralizing and frustrating. While Hillary has managed to make statements both for and against public schools, and for and against unions, it is likely she’ll ride the Obama/ Duncan/ King train to fully “reformed” schools.  We don’t want that.
  7. And finally- Reformers would have you believe that education is in crisis because of teachers and their unions, but want to know the real crisis in education today? POVERTY. Bernie Sanders has been fighting for equality and against corporate greed for his entire life, and is the only candidate truly seeking to address the rapidly increasing inequality in this country. If we really want to do what’s right for children, we’ll choose the candidate who is fighting for their futures and their families- free college tuition, a living wage, affordable housing and free healthcare.

Forget the NEA, AFT endorsements. Bernie Sanders is a better bet for teachers.

 

http://prospect.org/article/what-would-sanders-administration-do-k-12-education

http://edexcellence.net/articles/bernie-sanders-quotes-about-education

http://www.aft.org/election2016/candidate-questionnaire-bernie-sanders