Thursday, February 13, 2014

Unsolicited Test Review

Yesterday, EJ had the day off of school to celebrate Lincoln's Birthday. It's an Illinois thing.

We've both been fighting off a cold this week, but rallied to make the day a fun one. Before heading over to a haircut appointment at the kid salon that feels like one part carnival, one part toy store, one part shenanigans, and sure, one part hair-cutting, we stopped to get lunch. Over her bowl of chicken soup, I asked her,

"So kiddo, of all the things going on right now—school stuff, activities, etc.—what's getting you the most excited?"

Here is what she said:

"I don't like that we don't have science or social studies at school anymore, because we have to spend all of our time preparing for the ISAT. Well, science I don't mind, because we barely did that at all before. Social studies is so sad, though! Mom, I love studying the states."

So, for those who are paying attention to the important contribution that standardized tests play in one third-grader's life, here's what we know:

  1. The kid misses time to do things other than reading, writing, and math, as well as test prep—prep that focuses on how to take the test, as well as how to do well in reading, writing, and math on the test.
  2. The kid, when asked what excites her about her life, including everything from school, to Girl Scouts, to rainbow loom, to ballet, started by telling me that she is upset that she misses core subjects.
  3. The evening before, EJ's school hosted an evening for third-grade parents to learn all about the ISAT test, as this is our children's first year: what to expect for the next few weeks of prep, as well as the two full weeks of testing in March
  4. The ISAT test is being phased out after this year in favor of the PARCC, and will not be used as a part of teacher, principal, or school evaluations. Apparently, it is still linked to "No Child Left Behind," but common logic tells me that leaving science and social studies behind for at least a month is a bigger concern.
We didn't attend the prep meeting—I was the one free that evening, and I was sick. I was worried about missing vital information, about Mike and I being "those parents" who "don't participate," about leaving my kid in the lurch. My head was pounding too intensely to go, though, so the parent guilt I hoisted on myself didn't make any difference. After talking to EJ yesterday, I realized that no amount of test knowledge on my part will make the main problem go away: this test is an unnecessary interruption in an already test-crazy school calendar. 

I'd opt her out, but it would be more trouble than help. We've already been told that they've reduced the number of assessments administered to our kids from twenty-five down to ten. I know, we should feel grateful, right? Oh, wait, ten is still a crazy amount of assessments, especially when one of the ten is an obsolete test that takes two weeks of class-time to administer and a month of prep before. Twenty-five to ten including ISAT feels like our kids just got bamboozled by the offer, "I'll give you TWO quarters for your ONE dollar bill." Let's hope not, though, because that would mean that they aren't going to do very well on the math portion of the test.

For what it is worth, I suggested that we take a roadtrip this summer, and visit a bunch of states, see their capitals, etc. She suggested that we fly to each of them, because she thinks that we are wealthy, apparently, and can jet around from Madison to Denver to Sacramento, if those capitals suit our fancy. If I'm flying to any capitals after we all survive this winter/third-grade year, I'm going to make my choice Honolulu. 


  1. You are embroiled in an insane system. Thanks for sharing a view from inside the insanity. I still think you should write something about this experience for the Tribune. I'm glad you didn't go to the test prep night! Our kids learn from watching us, and you just taught her that when she grows up, she gets to refuse to waste her time on things that don't matter.

  2. Ugh, the effing testing. *Down* to TEN!?! This makes my head want to explode, and my kid isn't even in it yet. Yes, let's set the real learning aside for a month so that we can focus on this fake for-the-test learning.

    I remember taking one week-long series of tests every year (SRA, I think?) in grade school. Don't even know what they were used for. Some kids hated it, some loved it (as a kind of break from the norm), some didn't care much either way. No biggie. (Though there were loud groans throughout the school one April 1st when the principal said during the morning announcements over the PA that the test sheets had been accidentally destroyed instead of scored and that we'd have to retake them all. Ah, yes, Mr. Hubert. That man had a sense of humor.) But I can't imagine having to do that TEN FRIGGIN' TIMES A YEAR. When would we actually get to do, you know, school?

  3. Yes, 10 tests. But some of those 10 tests are given multiple times throughout the year. So, actually still more than 10.

    This is so wrong. So very, very wrong.