In public education, we are in the midst of a nationwide standardized testing frenzy. All over the country, states are carrying out aggressively daft measures to demonstrate “progress” in public school test scores.
Teachers are prodded to be “data-driven,” studying locally administered tests meant to both measure a student’s progress throughout the year and predict their success on the state’s standardized test. Students often face these assessments 2 to 6 times in a grading period. Teachers are asked pointed questions about the performance of different demographical sub-populations and about what actions they intend to take to assure that X number of students in that demographical sub-population will pass. Students also experience levels of stress similar to the pressures placed on educators by this technocratic approach.
Students feel punished as they are pulled from electives to be placed in remedial classes geared toward passing the state assessments. Sometimes they are pulled out of half an elective class so they can be tutored during their teacher’s conference period. In Texas, students could be required to come to school for tutoring on “Flex days,” days set aside to address ONLY those who are not making enough progress while all others are allowed to be home. The system implies that if the student doesn’t make enough progress, their work is worthless.
This entire approach seems to be a good example of the law of diminishing returns. At some point, the sheer amount of stress/labor/work/fatigue begins to have a negative effect on progress. This is when the question of “what are we still doing wrong?” becomes best answered by, “We are doing too much.”
Reflecting on which students seem to best able to adapt and progress with minimal intervention and which constantly struggle, I’m convinced that the main difference lies in parents.
Parents have the ability to begin their children’s education as early as they wish and ensure they are learning the concepts, skills, and attitudes they need to be successful at an early age. Parents have the ability to have one-on-one “lessons” (read: conversations) with their children. These sessions can be free of the usual classroom distractions, free of discipline issues that detract from instruction, and free of peer pressure to underperform. Parents alone may enjoy concentrated conversations that not only clarify, but reward natural curiosity and inquiry. Parents can do, one-on-one with their children, what a teacher cannot do in several tutorial sessions.
I realize that not all parents feel confident in their essay writing skills or their algebra knowledge. Many probably couldn’t say with certainty what binomial nomenclature is, much less explain how to identify a prepositional phrase.
I realize that many parents, overwhelmed by poverty, work several jobs to make ends meet. Time for these conversations is scarce if existent at all.
I realize that some parents don’t find education as important as football, cheer leading, or soccer practice.
To many, having an educated child isn’t as glorious as having a child who is makes a game-saving Friday night touchdown (in the short run).
I realize that this idea causes parents to invest in their kids in a way that exposes their own doubts, fears, and lack of confidence in education. It asks parents to take time out to re-learn material that might have been the cause for grief and frustration during their school days.
What if, though, parents agreed to find ways around some of these barriers? What if they used technology to assist in teaching the lessons instead of relying solely on their own knowledge? What if parents asked neighbors, grandparents, and after-school programs to help push a culture of education? What if parents took pride in their child’s ability to find the hypotenuse of a triangle and make head cheerleader? What if parents decided they didn’t want anything to stop their kids from succeeding, even if it meant confronting their own self-doubts?
I’m beginning a series of articles meant to help parents of all back grounds, cultures, and educational levels to begin fostering a climate of education in their homes on a daily basis. I’ll talk about what I find most secondary students lacking in their academic backgrounds as well as what has worked with my own students and even my own children. My goal is to empower parents to make a difference in their children’s lives, making school a much less stressful place to be. (No helicoptering needed!)
Hopefully, this testing fad will fade and usher in a new educational era of freedom for students and trust in teachers. Until then, it takes a village.