So, this happened this week, on the front page of our daughter's homework packet:
Lest we think that the school year is not all about testing, we are informed that—hurray!—another test is on the horizon. Congratulations, kids! You have completed round seven, or eight, or twelve—I have no idea how to even count the tests at this point—and haven't been knocked out, yet. Look alive, get ready, there's more to come!
The NWEA is the test for which our kids have been asked to longitudinally graph their scores, and set goals for improving their tests by a few points in each category. This is also the test that, this year, led my child into shame self-talk, because she hadn't advanced two points in her reading category, despite already being many years ahead and not behind in any way whatsoever. It turns out that graphing out your test scores and focusing in on numbers, numbers, gains in numbers, really grips kids' attentions. It makes them feel personally responsible for getting a higher score, even if the goal that is set is a) negligible (because there isn't anywhere to grow) and b) within the margin of error (which is not explained, but I've ranted about that already.)
Note, I did not say that the graphing makes kids feel personally responsible for doing their best, or working hard to learn new things, or enjoying reading/math/discovery. I said it makes them feel responsible for getting a higher score. Big difference. I'm glad to know the date of the next test, as it will give me time to prep EJ not to worry about her score. I don't know that I will be totally successful, as it will likely be discussed ad nauseum at school, and of course, she'll go in knowing what personal goals she is being asked to meet. We'll do what we can, and make her pancakes for breakfast, and remember what it is was like back as kids in the seventies and eighties, when we took standardized tests every few years, and never knew our scores. How did my husband get a PhD? How did I get a master's degree? How did we become educated, hard-working contributors to society without graphing out our incremental test score gains at least twice a year? The mind boggles.
Meanwhile, while we are well-informed about tests, we have little idea what is going on with their social studies project, which has them in teams learning about Chicago landmarks/important places. In past years, the third graders have gone on tons of field trips, and because the school is centrally located, many of those excursions have been walking field trips to museums, parks, and other landmarks. Exercise, fresh air, hands-on cultural learning—who can beat that? I remember remarking on how often I saw the third graders being herded back to school around dismissal time when EJ was younger, and parents with older kids mentioned that third grade was "the field trip year, since they study Chicago." Since that time, I've loved the idea that "field trip year" was ahead for my kiddo, and I was so excited that her school embraced it; it was one of the many things I loved about the school, actually.
This year, EJ's class has had ZERO field trips. That's right, NONE. That means that we had more trips to Chicago when I was a school kid in Wisconsin than she has had this year.
Chicago, for all of its foibles—the terrible climate, the expense, the corruption, and the bureaucracy that makes even liberals like me question, "What is this government for, anyway?"—is a remarkable, world-class city. Come visit, you will be awed, truly. The amount of amazing things to do here just goes on and on, with museums, parks, the lake, excellent theater, incredible dining, festivals, cutting-edge architecture for over a hundred and fifty years, shopping....you see what I'm saying. When we decided, after grad school, that our best next-move was to stay here, at least in the short-term, we committed to treating our time more like tourists, really getting out and seeing the things that people who visit do. Even living here, you can't catch it all.
All the standardized testing makes me sad. All the ways the testing is influencing my kid to change the way she feels about her learning makes me depressed. And now, all the missed opportunities for the kids to go out into the city and learn about it by actually visiting the places that make it what it is makes me frustrated.
This merry-go-round we are riding needs some serious maintenance work.