Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Child's Response to the Standardized Testing Madness

Originally published on Thursday, November 8, 2012

Yesterday morning as I was braiding Younger Child's hair for school, Older Child was in the basement at the computer furiously typing away. "I'm going to write a protest letter!" she told me as she passed the doorway on her way downstairs; this week, in early November, students at her school are undergoing the first round of practice testing for the MSA, Maryland's standardized test, which is administered in March. Yes, that is FOUR MONTHS away, and there will likely be another round of practice tests and countless sessions of "how to find topic sentences" and "how to summarize contrived articles" before the real thing. Test preparation last year took us huge and unwieldy chunks of time and upset schedules right and left, all while stressing teachers and students to the max. When Older Child asked me why there were so many practice tests, and what they did with that information, and why she would have to make up a practice test if she missed it (because in all honesty I was planning to let her stay home this morning and go back in to school after the practice test was finished), I had no answers for her, and suggested she ask the people with the answers, and so the letter below was conceived.  My only admonishment was, "Make sure I get to read it before you print, please!"

Here, with only the signature edited out, is what she took to school yesterday, and with her permission I'm sharing it here:
To Whom It May Concern,

    What is the point of the practice MSAs? If they’re just to get us ready for the proper MSA, we already are. Most of the fifth-graders have taken it at least once, and the fourth-graders have usually taken it once before. I know there are some people who have just come to this school and are new, and the third-graders certainly haven’t taken it before. Maybe they should have the practice MSA, but it doesn’t mean all three grades should have to take it. It messes up schedules, and last year, I had to choose between instrumental music and my special. Nobody offered a make-up time, instructions on which to do, or even an apology I’d have to miss something. I don’t even think that’s a choice people should have to make.
    It also eats up our reading and math time. We don’t even get to read when we finish a section of the practice MSAs! Maybe it’s not allowed on the real one, but what about the practices? You’re supposed to check your work when you’re done. Okay. Once you’ve checked your work three times and you still have ten or fifteen or maybe twenty minutes left, is there any merit to checking it again? And then what are you supposed to do? If it’s still “good practice”, why is it as strict as the real MSA?
    Last year, among all the vocabulary quizzes, words of the day, and learning time spent reviewing strategies and going through packets, I think we got in more than enough practice time, and the tests really seemed unnecessary.
    MSAs are about reading and math, but instead of spending our time working up to the MSA focusing on reading and math(and science, in the case of the fifth-graders), we focus on test strategies. We’re learning how to take a test, not how to be good at reading and math.
    Altogether, I think we overload on MSA practice.

[My 5th-Grader]

I'm so very proud of her! :-)
[addendum: She waited a long while (several weeks) for a response, and when FINALLY she was called to the office for a meeting with the principal and the teacher in charge of testing in our school, the first things focused on were her tone and delivery, NOT the message. To be fair, she was told by her classroom teacher to deliver it to the teacher in charge of the testing, and when she did finally encounter said teacher she was on her way someplace else, so the actual delivery was....perfunctory at best. That said, IMO she raised a valid concern that was not entirely addressed to her satisfaction, nor to mine. She was told that PARCC would replace the MSA (Maryland's current mandated standardized test) in the next couple of years and, according to my child, was then asked if she could find the stamina to handle one more practice test. In the end, we opted out of the second practice test (in January) and she hung out with me that morning.

For the record, I believe that her teacher and her school have done well by her. My biggest gripe is about The System which imposes these tests on schools and students in the first place. That said, I'm not sure at what level decisions about how much test prep and practice tests are made, even after this incident. This year, my younger child will be in her first year of high-stakes testing, and for a number of reasons I'm very conflicted about this. That'll be covered in a later post on its own.]

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please keep it clean. Differences of opinion aren't a problem for me. Rudeness is. Thankyouverymuch. :-)