The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has posted its 2015 "report card." NAEP measures student achievement and is given periodically to students across the United States. It will come as no surprise to many educators that the scores are down.
Teachers' unions, who have led the opposition to the increased amount of testing, feel they are somewhat vindicated. Educators, parents, and students have all been voicing frustration with the imposed standards for testing. Not only is time a factor, but redundancy and evidence of purpose are also areas of concern.
I am a former teacher of special needs children and I can say from experience that one hat doesn't fit all. If I were teaching now, my "special needs children" would be allowed extra time for completing standardized tests. Extra time would not give my students the skills they need for good test scores. It would only cause stress and feelings of failure. Their accomplishments were huge, but the tests are not geared to measure their achievements.
Unfortunately, their low scores would affect the ratings for the school. And under current standards, could have affected my job security. Part of my evaluation as a teacher would be based on how well my students had scored on these mandated tests. I know you're thinking, "That doesn't make sense," and you're right.
But as long as teachers are evaluated by their students' test performance, teachers will continue to "teach to the test," despite their better judgment and frustration. Their job may depend on it. More test and prep time in class means less teaching time. This stumps both creative and critical thinking for students.
And don't get me started on the larger picture of schools in America. In my state, federal funding for education has been cut drastically. Good teachers who can, are fleeing the state for better paying teaching jobs. Teachers are under valued and yet, how do we expect to be a leading power in the world, if we don't provide the best possible education?
So what can we do about this poor report card? Educators and teachers unions will continue to push for reforms. They will fight relentlessly. What can parents do?
•Start by staying involved at your children's schools. Voice your concerns to the teachers and staff. They need to hear it, even if they are as frustrated as you are.
•Be an advocate for better public education among your friends. Spread the word!
•Write to your federal and state representatives about the lack of funding and the need for reforms. Use your personal experiences in your letters/emails. "We started school in August. It's now October and they are still testing in my son's first grade class."
•At home, be a "teacher." Talk to your kids in a thoughtful way about school. If you always ask, "How was school?" you'll always get the same answer, "Fine." Instead, get in the habit of asking questions that require dialogue: "Which centers did you go to today?" "Which was your favorite?" "Why?" "Did you have a special class today?" "What project are you working on?" For older kids, "What are you studying in history right now?" Specific questions, lead to meaningful discussions.
•In the lower grades, extra testing time can mean less lunch and recess time so allow your kids to "just play" outside after school when possible.
•Have "family reading time." Choose a chapter book (age appropriate) and read ten minutes a day together. If your kids can share in the reading, wonderful. If not, read to them. Let your kids help in choosing the books. Talk about the story.
•Organize space at home for creativity. Areas with blocks and other building toys are great places to start. Add in items that might have gone to the recycle bin, like cardboard rolls, and jars lids. Make a project together and add to it over time.
•Offer an enticing area for inspiration. Not just paper, crayons and markers, but add in scraps of wrapping paper, "blings" such as jewels, buttons, and lace, and anything else you can find. This is the perfect time of the year, with all the holidays coming to encourage writing and creativity. Place cards and placemats for Thanksgiving, lists for Santa, Hanukkah or other celebrations, and thank you notes. Easy ways to get your kids writing. (And if you think that only girls will enjoy these activities, think again. I get just as many beautiful notes from boys when I visit schools.)
•Escape the dangling "carrot" of mobile devices. I was sitting in a restaurant recently and across the table was a family of four. Mom and Dad were both on mobile devices and the kids were playing a game on an iPad. Precious family time lost.
Let's not settle for a poor report card. Our children deserve better.