Friday, September 18, 2015

Why Parents Should OPT OUT of Common Core Testing - a response to Karen Quinn

Mercy, mercy, mercy - I made the mistake of clicking on this link to an informercial-trying-to-pass-for-article in the Washington Post on September 18th. The basic upshot of the article, written by one Karen Quinn, founder of TestingMom (actual motto: "Make your kid smarter today!"), "a Web site that helps pre-K to 8th graders ace important tests and build skills for school success," is that standardized testing is Good For Your Children and Informative For Parents.
In case you thought I was kidding about the motto...

She starts out by admitting that "Parents and students object to these tests for reasons that are arguably valid and true. They say that meaningless mandated tests are taking over our schools, too much time is being spent in the classroom preparing for tests just so the government can find out how well teachers and schools are performing, the tests are used to rank, sort, judge and label our kids, teachers and schools and that isn’t fair, and the Common Core standards and tests that assess them are too hard" - and then goes on to say we parents should embrace them anyway.

The 5 points Quinn lays out are as follows:

"1) Your child needs to learn how to take a standardized test. In a few years, your child may take the SAT or ACT, and his score will impact whether he gets into college.....It takes years for a child to learn how to be a good standardized test taker. Sitting for the Common Core test will help your child get better at the test-taking skills he needs to master if he is going to apply to college."

My comebacks:
1) Maybe. Not all colleges even require either the SAT or ACT any more.
2) Even if my child eventually does apply to a school that requires the SAT for admission, does she REALLY need to start learning these skills in 3rd grade? In KINDERGARTEN? Does she need to spend more time ANNUALLY testing than the SAT will take, even if she takes it TWICE? There are So. Many. OTHER. better and more constructive ways to both use the time and the money allotted to schools.

"2) You will learn important things about your child. If your child takes the test and does well, that’s great to know. If your child scores below expectations, you need to find out why."

PARCC was administered last year in my kids' schools. (My kids did not participate.) It is looking increasingly likely that scores will not come back to schools until AFTER DECEMBER of this year - at least a 7-month lag time! They'll be more than halfway through the next grade without those scores, and yet their teachers this year will somehow find a way to see where my kids are academically and go forward from there, just as they have year after year.

When the scores DO finally come back, I wouldn't be able to tell whether my mathematically-gifted child's scores truly reflect her ability to Math, her ability to Explain Your Answer in a test-acceptable format (verbal skills aren't her strong suit, and I already know that and don't need PARCC to tell me), her stamina (she's ADD and "checks out" after about 20 minutes, so a 75-minute testing segment is a lost cause), or whether the scores would be impacted one way or the other by a glitch in the computer or the test itself. Her teachers won't be able to tell whether, back in March and May of last school year, there might have been problems with computation, with reading problems, with fractions - the score won't give ANYONE enough usable "actionable" (I hate that word, but it applies here) information.

"3) Your child will feel good about herself. " (Followed by an anecdote of a girl who did tons of test prep and scored well and Had High Self Esteem as a result.)

Are you aware, Ms. Quinn, of how these tests are scored, of what happens to the results?  There's no passing grade set before the tests are given; nobody knows how many questions have to be answered "correctly," what score will constitute "Proficient." These delineations are calculated AFTER the tests are taken and scored. So far, about 70% of kids are being told they are Not Proficient, that they are in fact failures. Tell me how this makes a child "feel good about herself."

"4) There’s value in preparing for this test. Years ago, when my kids were little and time was taken in class to teach them how to take the state test, I felt it was a waste. With the new Common Core standards, I don’t feel that way. To get ready for this test, kids are learning how to cite evidence from primary or secondary sources to support their point of view and show why they believe their analysis in essays is correct. They are taught to lay out the reasoning behind their answers to math questions. These are important thinking and communication skills that will serve our kids for school and for life. They are not just skills that apply to taking a test."

My older child was in one of the last cohorts to make it through our school system ahead of Common Core rollout, while my younger was the second cohort to experience it from Kindergarten onward. My older child also learned to cite primary and secondary sources, and in fact to do many of the other things that Common Core demands of students. The difference is that in her case, she wasn't being asked to do many of these tasks before she was developmentally ready, nor was her Early Childhood (that's birth-8YO, not just preschool) time taken up with academics in lieu of social-emotional development/non-academic skills. She still got a good education without the Common Core tests; this reason is specious at best.

"5) What message do you want to send? Life is tough and it certainly isn’t fair. There are challenges ahead for your child and mine. What kind of message are we sending our kids if we let them opt out of things because they are too hard or (in our opinion) meaningless, unfair or a waste of time?"

The message I want to send to my kids is to not simply take a test that is sapping millions of dollars from their school system and countless hours of prep time from their schooling Just Because Someone Said So. I want them to think for themselves, to question, to take action to make the world a better place, to make their schools places of learning for the sake of learning again. I want to send them the message that their standing up, that OUR, as a family, standing up for something we believe in can make a difference, even if it's not a big one in our own community. Do you think they go through no adversity being the only ones in their classes sitting with books while their classmates are busy at their Chromebooks but sneaking looks at them? Do you think it takes zero courage to be the Different One? Nuh-uh.

We will be refusing the PARCC test in our Maryland school district again this year, NOT embracing it. I won't fault parents who do have their children test, but I urge all parents to do their homework before "opting in." The return on investment simply falls far too short: too much money and time taken from schools, unrealistic/too-high demands placed on too-young children, all for scores that don't come back in a timely fashion and give us too little information when they finally DO come back - ALL those "arguably valid and true" points she made above! - that's nothing worth embracing.