Recently we were offered math tutoring for our 5th grader because he scored low on the MCAS. We asked well, what is his grade in Math class? An A. But he needs tutoring? Well, not in math, but in passing the test.
It took us about ten seconds to decide that our answer was no. We’re not going to make him feel like he’s failing to help the school boost its scores.
This experience reminded me of how gypped I feel that my kids are going to school in the No Child Left Behind era. While some progress is being made in moving away from the rules of this ridiculous act, my sons are still paying the price for politics. The quality of their education is damaged because schools are required to meet test scores and show progress rather than teach whole children.
I know a lot of people whose children started kindergarten this year, and many of them have real concerns about their kids. They’re hearing from teachers that their kids won’t sit still, won’t stop what they’re doing and participate with the group, and the dreaded “she’s not learning her letters.”
I try to tell them that kids who are five years old and in kindergarten aren’t necessarily supposed to be good at these things. But because the quality of education is based on how well they can do on a test, teachers need to be able to assess growth, and their jobs are at stake if they don’t.
Our fabulous, wonderful, amazing kindergarten teacher once told me, “This isn’t kindergarten. I’m teaching a first-grade curriculum.” At the time I was apologizing for bringing in a really messy plaster handprint project that took up most of the afternoon and that she had to teach around while I pulled kids out of her lesson. But she was thrilled that I was making a giant mess.
She said, “This is what kindergarten should be. Fingerpaints, play-doh, getting dirty, fun stuff.” But the amount that she is required to cram into their little heads doesn’t leave any time for the fun stuff. When she had my older son, she was still doing a few special cooking projects throughout the year. I don’t think my younger son ever got to do one just two years later.
These are the reasons why, for many years, I’ve been fighting against curriculum standards in child care. I didn’t like it when the state changed my title from “care provider” to “educator.” I’m far too busy meeting the basic needs of seven kids to spend hours developing a curriculum plan for five different age groups (especially when whatever I plan will entertain them for ten minutes tops).
In day care I need to hold kids in my lap. I need to roll around on the floor with them. I need to sing songs and play imaginary games and make sure they get some fresh air and exercise. I need to feed, clean, change, and nap them. I need to be able to let them do play-doh for an hour and a half if they want (that really happened here, just last week, I swear).
And in school, kids need to be exposed to a variety of experiences and learning styles. They need gym and recess and downtime. They need to write and act out plays. They need to build mobiles and shoe box dioramas and study different cultures by playing their games. They need to be inspired by music and art; in short, they need all the things that are being systematically squeezed out of their education.
So if your child is being criticized for things kids their age are typically not capable of, remember to follow your instincts and know that the school may be demanding more of them than they are ready for. Know that instead of flourishing in a world of astounding new technology, our schools are becoming more draconian. That under the current model, “adequate yearly progress” means that if your child doesn’t double their skills in a six-month period, they and their school are viewed as failing. Then write to your congressman, senator, and anyone else you can think of to rid our system of the absurdity of standardized testing.