Struggling with Standardized Testing: My Mom of Four Perspective

So, I totally hate standardized testing. Period. Let’s just get that out of the way. It’s bad for students, families, teachers, and schools.

Now, with that said, we currently live in a system that requires them.

Dilemma.

I have four kids in very different educational arenas this year, and I want to think through why I am feeling less threatened by their testing situations this year than any other year to date.

11th: My 17 year old will be required to take the Colorado ACT this  year at his public high school. He just completed a mandatory week-long ACT Academy at his high school. This school denies access to the senior picnic next year for any students who do not completed the full Academy. The ironic part is that he voluntarily took the ACT in early February…. with a 30 overall and a 34 on the English portion. Tell me, how does it help him to retake a test he has already shown proficiency on? If he is content with that score based on his post-secondary plans, why can’t the state accept that test? And why would the school require that he study for something he is obviously prepared for? Now, could his score improve? Yes, but the point for us as parents is not to subject him to multiple tests without cause… I probably have the biggest issues with this grade level this year because of the tone of their communication and the focus on penalties for non-compliance. It just makes me mad and feels manipulative only for the gain of the school/teachers. My kid is going to be one of their ‘good testers’, and they are doing nothing but communicate doom and gloom. Again, make me mad. This is compounded by the fact that I do not feel like they have advocated for him and helped him make the best choices in his educational path. (That is a whole ‘nother rant…)

9th: My 14 year old will take TCAPs at Colorado Early Colleges (public charter) the week after spring break. They administer it, but have not made a big deal out of it. From what my daughter has said, all of her classes are ‘normal’ and there has been zero test preparation. Teachers are just teaching their content. She will have three half-school days of testing, and will be provided snacks and water. They are soliciting family engagement with the simple line “As this assessment determines the scrutiny we receive from the state and our authorizer, CSI, we ask that you encourage your student(s) to embrace the TCAP assessment and to do their very best on the test!” on an email. Personally, I don’t mind helping support the school in this area because:

  • a) the test is not the focus of the school
  • b) the test is being administered in the least invasive way possible
  • c) the school is providing great opportunities for my child
  • d) the test is not the focus of the school (see what I did there????)

6th: My 12 year old will be taking TCAPs with Colorado Calvert Academy (online charter) this coming week. He will have two days of testing (one full, one half). He has taken several computerized predictive tests leading up to this time, but they were fairly minimal- 20-30 minute computerized assessments. I have spoken extensively with the principal about how these tests are administered, and I know that in the purposely small testing groups they honor needs to stop for a bit and play outside or get a snack. Again, I have similar feelings about this school as above- the school is minimizing the test as much as possible, while calling on the families to honor their intent. I can respect that, even though I hate the testing itself.

5th: My 10 year old is homeschooled, and I am still dithering about what I will do to comply with state law. At this point, I will likely just give her the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in a low-key manner, but am also exploring the option of having an educational professional assess her via a meeting. The frustrating part of this for me is that the latter option seems to be what is best for students. However, finding an educator willing to sign-off on this kind of face to face assessment is challenging… also also begs the question in my mind, “why doesn’t the state allow teachers to sign off on their own classroom?”. I mean, if they are qualified enough to say if a homeschooler is meeting expectations, aren’t they qualified to say a public school student is also?

Ultimately, I think the approach of the school makes a world of difference in how standardized testing is perceived by students. I haven’t heard a single stressed out word about testing from any of them this year. Contrast that with their experience at a public elementary school where they were freaked out for MONTHS… they were not allowed to read a book or lay their heads on their desk after completing the test section (this might promote kids rushing through to read or sleep, you know), they were not allowed to play at recess within 20 feet of the building (there were cones- they might disturb kids who were testing), they were not allowed to speak at all in the hallways (again, might disturb other students), they were told over and over and over and over how important this test is, they were test prepped to death, they were predictive tested to death, they were told their teacher was graded on their grades…. all in all the school and district made the test larger than life. As parents, we received repeated emails about the importance of sleep and food leading up to the test, about how students have to be present, about what would happen to us and our kids if we didn’t comply, etc. Very negative tone towards parental competency and high high high level of concern/control.

Contrast that with this year, where two of the schools have chosen to marginalize the tests. Yes, they are required to administer them. Yes, my student must take them or lose his/her spot at the charter next year. But the overall tone and tenor of communications about the testing? Very chill and very supportive of students. They are not pressuring students to perform, but asking parents and students as part of their learning community to just do their best so they can go about their work. Very different from a school where the focus is on the test for months. The way they are communicating is so different for my children- it’s a matter-of-fact, ‘we do this as a community’, not ‘do this for me or I lose my job’. The resulting emotional feel for my kids has been huge- they aren’t stressed about it, and yet are engaged in the process of doing the best they can. So much of test perception is based on how schools communicate the test requirement to students.

Although the state says the test is significant to the school, these schools have chosen to make them insignificant to students. Until we can change educational legislation, this seems to be a happy medium, from a parent of four kids perspective. Yes, we will all play the game together so that we can all get on with our lives and be about the business of letting our kids learn in an environment that works for them. As a parent, this is more acceptable than fighting a huge opt-out battle with each school at this time. (And yes, I’ve had a few of those discussions with my kids’ administrators, and it was evident that there would be consequences for me and my children if we took that path.)

Open Master’s Framework

Credit: drouu on sxc.hu
Credit: drouu on sxc.hu

Three years ago, I tried to find a way to make a graduate education that would work for the system. I didn’t want to become a traditional teacher, so a traditional program was not an option. I wanted to become an expert in personalized and self-directed learning. I discovered very quickly that the education system frowns on this kind of creativity and outside-the-box thinking. Who would hire me without a teaching license? How does one interpret an innovative learning experience for a very traditional system? Would I forever be considered a non-certified minion? How would I gain the financial advantages of my increased expertise?

It was enough to make me leave the system altogether and continue learning on my own without a defined purpose. I spent part of a year in a private school where the experiential learning was invaluable. I spent another part of a year homeschooling using project based learning methods. I spent another part of a year learning about and using Colorado Calvert Academy (online charter school) for my own children. Which leads me to the present.

I am currently working in an innovative program that facilitates self-directed learning paths for students. I love it! It combines my passion for technology, information literacy, and self-directed education into one amazing experience. It has also reopened the worlds of Twitter (didn’t have much to say for a few years, quite honestly) and online learning for my own professional development. I’m taking a MOOC course. I’m building an online digital portfolio…. three places- since I’m not certain how long these providers will be around or which one will become the industry standard. Much of this I am doing because I need to experience it in order to help students navigate their educational path.

This time around, I’m approaching this a little differently. Rather than getting all “edupunk for hire”, I’m trying to exhibit one of the values I think I missed last time- to work within the system, but not cater to the system.  If we are telling students “yes” to alternative paths to education, we certainly should be telling professionals “yes”. As adults, do we really need someone else to ‘stamp’ our learning by paying a university to certify our work? When can learners just exhibit knowledge- similar to a competency based approach- to employers? Is there a less expensive, less invasive way to verify Master’s level work? What needs to change in our education system so that non-traditional students can breathe life into a system that desperately needs it? Do we hire them into charter schools or innovation zones? If a traditional school district wouldn’t hire based on a self-directed learning portfolio, who would?  What are my options?

Lots of questions. No answers. I am encouraged to see Jonathan’s work at Degree of Freedom (@degreeoffree) and Alan Webb’s through the Open Master’s group (@openmasters). I think these guys are on to something, and I look forward to seeing some new pathways forged for those of us seeking an alternative to traditional higher education. I think this article, The Owner and the Renter in Education, is a profound component of this open education equation.

These are the Master’s programs I am considering adapting. I do understand that I don’t know what I don’t know, and I would like to find an existing structure or two to create my Master’s framework. I want to have a well-rounded experience blended with a specialization in self-directed learning.

Any thoughts? Do you know of another innovative program I should review? Are you enrolled in one of these programs? Do you teach in one of them? I covet your feedback and thoughts. Please share. 

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-11-14

  • @ktenkely Is PalBee no more? Just catching up on my feed, and saw your post. http://bit.ly/aDSWwT #
  • Using http://www.telescopictext.com and http://www.zooborns.com to talk with 3rd-5th about URL names. #
  • @MrsLauer I need help creating an informal mid-year elem tech assessment. Who would be a good person to ask for help? #
  • @mwacker No, unfortunately. I was looking for a free group alternative to Elluminate. Love it, but no $$ to pay for it. in reply to mwacker #
  • @mwacker Want something for meeting/collaborating real-time with others (5-10 people) in my position each week. in reply to mwacker #
  • @MrsLauer I'll check with her…. and I'll Google "learning targets". 😀 I want to know what they're retaining re: tech stuff. in reply to MrsLauer #
  • @MrsLauer Basically a predictive for tech assessments in middle so I can adjust my teaching. in reply to MrsLauer #
  • @mwacker Seriously?!!!! Thanks for the Dim-Dim heads up. That'll work great! http://www.dimdim.com Many thanks. in reply to mwacker #
  • Thank you @dimdim for creating such a great product and sharing it for free! #
  • Friday night, and I'm debating student groups, looking at tech profiles, and thinking about learning outcomes. #
  • Have you seen the ISTE NETS*S profiles for 3rd-5th? http://bit.ly/cON3CE My 8th grader isn't even doing this stuff! #longwaytogo #
  • Online storyboard site, anyone? Want to teach my elem kids to plan out their Storybird/Xtranormal before they create it. #
  • Score! KidsVid has online scripting and editing tools http://bit.ly/3wTFnG #
  • Learning to Use a Green Screen with iMovie '09. http://youtu.be/eP-svi0XQks #
  • T minus 1 day until I'm done with Bachelor's level work forever. Final essay, here I come! I see a coffee shop hop happening tomorrow. #
  • @kathycassidy Thanks for sharing using Vocaroo! http://vocaroo.com/ I hadn't heard of that resource before. in reply to kathycassidy #
  • @TeachPaperless Did the weight of it break your toe? Or could you not resist the wacky green backlit dude on the cover? 😀 in reply to TeachPaperless #
  • @Larryferlazzo I'm beta-testing using it with elem students in computer lab… having some multiple user, single machine issues to work out. in reply to Larryferlazzo #
  • @jaymej My prob was that I couldn't just add the page I'd created to one machine- the site sees each user as a new account Makes it hard. in reply to jaymej #
  • @budtheteacher What plug-in are you using for 'this week in tweets'? Found Twitter Digest, but it doesn't seem right. #
  • "institutions derived from the experience of the former century proved less & less adequate 2 the conditions & probs of the current century" #
  • Last tweet from my hist of China book, but very appropos for ed tech. #
  • @jaymej They can- each user that opens Symbaloo has to add the page I created…. tedious with individual & class users on one computer. in reply to jaymej #
  • @Grade1 Thanks for sharing! This is exactly what I needed to read to help my bloggers & Storybird creators build a better story. in reply to Grade1 #
  • @olafelch This cracks me up! (esp. as I'm sitting here crafting a final essay and making sure I'm crediting what I'm copying) in reply to olafelch #
  • OK, so Google is now editing searches real-time as you add terms to the search. How cool is that for teaching how to narrow a search? #
  • HyperHistory.net "Hyperlinked World History with a Biblical Perspective" #
  • Wonders of the internet- one can work on college work in an elementary school. #
  • Love this Slideshare- "You Suck at Powerpoint" http://slidesha.re/cOgd7B Not kid appropriate terms, but ideas are solid. #
  • Reading up on Storyrobe http://www.storyrobe.com thanks to @wfryer RE http://bit.ly/98WQjt #
  • Wishing @brainpop had a quick video on word processing basics. (hint, hint) #
  • Instructional Strategies Online from Saskatoon Public Schools http://bit.ly/9tmEli #
  • @MitchSquires Don't you know, "Happiness waits at the Stuff-Mart"? http://youtu.be/r1bRTmXOpqU Poor video, but in case you haven't heard it. in reply to MitchSquires #
  • RT @andrewdouch: An important article: http://j.mp/cby4U4 cc/@monk51295 (Let kids use their own tech!) #
  • Global Education Conference starts tomorrow! http://bit.ly/cQk3zZ via @stevehargadon #

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