This is a pretty tired subject, I realize. I’m a professor in a teacher education program, so we talk about No Child Left Behind and its consequences a good bit. But this week is STAAR week here in Texas and my kids—Stuart especially—are super anxious. This is madness, folks. He is 9 and the lowest grade he’s made all year (actually, ever) is probably a 95. What makes a kid who has only ever experienced success in school (knock on wood) afraid of a test?
His teachers each sent home a blank sheet of cutesy paper last week and asked us to write a special letter for the kids to open each day before beginning the test. (The teacher educator in me immediately thought of the poor kids who won’t get a letter. What about them? I’m hoping that the teachers have some extras on hand, although those kids will certainly feel the difference between a letter from their mom/dad and a cut-and-paste job from their teacher.) I put off writing the letter until the very last minute.
And then: what to say? Part of me wanted to say:
Screw the STAAR test.
But I’m not really much of a rabble-rouser (pants-to-church notwithstanding). So I wrote two encouraging letters—one of which simply said,
Remember what you told me: You.are.awesome. (Book of Mormon musical fans—and Stuart—will get this joke.)
Stuart was VERY anxious about getting to bed early (which I was all too happy to facilitate!) and wanted to make sure that he would have “a good breakfast” tomorrow (which I guess means no PopTarts or Toaster Streudels or frozen chocolate chip waffles—his usual breakfast of champions!). Brent’s nicer than I am, so he agreed to get up and make scrambled eggs and sausage tomorrow morning. So off he’ll go with a good breakfast in his belly.
I know I’m not alone in thinking this system is not a good one. Here are just a few stories that have happened to one of my kids or to a friend or family member’s child in the last few years:
- Elementary school children were encouraged to bring caffeinated drinks on testing days (and were told that Mountain Dew was the best because it has the most caffeine!) to help them do better on the test.
- An elementary school teacher told his/her students that on testing day, if he/she walks by their desk and accidentally trips, that’s a sign that maybe they should go back and change one of their answers.
- A high school student was told by his teacher to not come to school on testing day because he would surely bring down the school’s test scores.
- A school administrator explained in a school wide assembly that the reason why the school was labeled “unacceptable” (or whatever the term du jour was) by the state was because of the science test scores of the African American students in the school.
- My kids grouse about being “on lockdown” when other grades are testing. “Lockdown” means they have to stay in their rooms all day and can’t go to PE or their other elective classes. Unfortunately, “lockdown” is also a term that we use in correctional facilities, so I really don’t love this.
- My 9th grade daughter will spend 3+ hours sitting in the cafeteria because she is taking some classes that mostly upperclassmen take, but is not allowed outside of the 9th grade building. She is (rightly?) wondering why she should even have to go to school.
So what are we to do? We can accept the status quo or we can complain in blog posts, but neither option is very satisfying. I’m intrigued by this group—Parents Opt Out—that is advocating for parents to keep their children home on testing days due to part of the Texas Education Code that says that “a parent is entitled to remove the parent ’s child temporarily from a class or other school activity that conflicts with the parent ’s religious or moral beliefs if the parent presents or delivers to the teacher of the parent ’s child a written statement authorizing the removal of the child from the class or other school activity.”
So what do you think? Is this a viable option? Should we be considering things like this? Or should we just continue to ignore the status quo and hope it goes away?
- I don’t know anything about the Parents Opt Out group and see some red flags on their webpage. But I’m interested in learning more about them or similar groups.
- No Child Left Behind has been good in terms of shining a much needed light on the unequal education experienced by various racial minority groups, students from lower socioeconomic status families, English Language Learners, and students receiving special education services. That’s the one nice thing I can say about NCLB.
- I am in no way blaming teachers for this situation. They are just trying to do their jobs within the obvious constraints of the system.