Monday, March 4, 2013

The (Lack of) Value in Test Prep

I have to go on a bit of a rant here.

If your kids are in school, or you have anything to do with the education system, you are familiar with standardized testing and the term "teaching to the test". Arizona gives the AIMS test, other states have varieties of the same. Schools are becoming increasingly focused on AIMS test scores and teaching topics that are found on the test rather than authentic learning. This is teaching the students how to fill in the right bubble, but not much long term knowledge that will actually help them enjoy learning independently, or become educated, successful adults. I love how this blogger's daughter put it: "I have a box, and I know what to put in it.

Some people like tests. I am actually one of those weirdos...I loved taking the ITBS when I was in grade school. It was fun for me. The difference is, however, that when I was in elementary school a zillion years ago, the focus wasn't on the test. I had some fantastic teachers - Mrs. Grossman in kindergarten, Mrs. Byram in 2nd grade, and Mrs. Berg in 4th grade spring to mind - who knew how to keep school interesting and fun, and differentiate learning for all of the kids in the class. By middle school, the content was changing, but we LEARNED, and learned interesting, useful things. We didn't "test prep". We just had one week of the school year during which we took the test, we were allowed to snack during class and didn't have any homework. Woo hoo!

Hailey returned to public school in January, and on her first progress report, I found she was being graded for "AIMS Test Prep". There is a program called Study Island from the Dept. of Education that is basically a zillion multiple choice tests in the subject areas covered by AIMS and worded like the AIMS. She is assigned a bunch of these weekly in math and language arts. In previous years, they were assigned, but they were not graded. I received a progress report today from her Language Arts teacher, and her grade has dropped a few letters because she hasn't completed these multiple choice tests.

Now, forgive me but I am wrong, but I think that she should be doing some actual work in order to learn and practice these skills...not sit in front of the computer for hours and fill in bubbles and try to do them as fast as she can so she can go do something more interesting. (That's what I would do, anyway.) And the fact that her grade depends on these makes me SO MAD.

 The validity of the AIMS test has been questioned by many (that particular study looks at high school, but it is applicable to the lower grades.). The benefits of standardized testing have been questioned for years, and teachers in Seattle and Chicago have flat out refused to give standardized tests recently. It is becoming a national movement that teachers, parents and students are joining. These teachers, parents, and students believe that the tests are a waste of time, waste of money, and destructive to quality education in the classroom. (Which they are.) Even young students are writing protest letters. I love this one from a 5th grader in Maryland.

Now, my child's grades throughout the year are based on practicing for a test that has about 0% value in the real world?

So again, forgive me if I am not upset because she isn't completing these tests on her own during her weekends, or if I do not force her to sit in her room and complete them instead of spending valuable quality time with her family, doing fun things like playing games (in which she learns communication and strategy), going outdoors (learning about nature and the environment, and soaking up some vitamin D) or simply having good conversations with her family (vocabulary, persuasive speech, descriptive language, grammar, history, science...shall I go on?)

Completing AIMS test preps are a waste of her time and our family's, and I don't support them. Please, please, Kingman Academy of Learning, go back to your roots when the charter school was about academic excellence, not high test scores. I want my girl to enjoy learning, and be creative and think critically.  These tests do exactly the opposite. I can't be the only parent who feels this way.

Did you know that you can legally opt your children out of standardized testing?  The United Opt Out site offers a lot of information regarding opting out. There are also many Facebook groups for individual states, including one moderated by a teacher in NY who has a lot to say about standardized testing and the Common Core Standards.

Thankfully, Arizona's homeschooling laws are fairly liberal on the subject of standardized testing. If the laws have changed, however, by the time Delaney and Sophie are of "testing age", we will be opting out. 

P.S. I have a few friends who are teachers, and I know you teach with your whole heart and love those students to pieces. Bless you. You probably hate all of this as much as I do. :) 

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