Op-Ed: 5 Smart Questions Parents Should Ask About Testing in Our Schools

Wednesday, Apr 09, 2014 10:00am  |  COMMENTS (6)

testing

The following is an Op-Ed by Eloiza Jorge, an educator and Montclair mother.

The Montclair Public Schools is one of the biggest reasons I returned here to raise my children.  I‘m thrilled to be part of this thriving, diverse community.  Overall, I’m pleased with the quality and caliber of education my children receive– as a teacher educator and supervisor of student-teachers I can say that with confidence.

Yet, there are trends happening and decisions being made on our children’s behalf that we must critique.  Here are five “fat” questions that may help you formulate a more informed opinion about our local BOE’s priorities and decision making when it comes to testing in our schools.

1.  What’s the purpose of your children’s education?
Do you send your kids to school to gain skills they need to hold down a job?  Is the purpose solely to prepare them for a next step, like college?   How about discovering their gifts and weaknesses?  How do kids develop perseverance and discipline?  Do they get the chance to explore different disciplines and topics?  How do you cultivate intrinsic motivation?  What will help them lead more full and satisfying lives?

2. Which skills are relevant to your children’s education?
Surely, decoding words and computing math equations are vital skills.  As are reading comprehension, analysis and critique, and problem solving.  How about skills like creativity, finding meaning, contemplating alternative solutions, questioning, collaborating, inventing?  Might other skills like empathy, enthusiasm and generosity be relevant? How do these skills get reinforced and further developed?

3.  What’s the enduring message?
Twenty years from now what do you want your children to remember about school?   What do you remember about school?  Do you remember the rote memorization?  Do you remember your scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (NJ schools circa 1980’s)?  Or might you remember the teachers who challenged and encouraged you?  Do have fond memories of science projects and constructing dioramas?  Do you remember dressing up as your favorite historical figure?  Or maybe your best memories are of field trips or volunteering in the community?

4. How will your children’s growth be measured in the long and short term?
How will you know your kids “get it”?   What’s the best way to determine that?  Would a project or re-enactment demonstrate understanding?  Would a debate or speech prove they’re thinking critically?  What role should multiple choice exams and standardized tests play in your children’s schooling?  How will your kids show growth over time?  What are alternative ways to assess student growth and achievement?

5.  Why don’t the most prestigious and elite schools rely so heavily on multiple choice assessments and “cookie cutter” curricular standards?
Elite and prestigious schools certainly conform to what many would argue are high standards.  Why don’t they rely as heavily on standardized curricula?  Are high expectations and rigor the logical outcome of mandated standards and testing?   Might high expectations and rigor be cultivated in an environment where questioning, creativity and innovation abound?

In the college classes I teach we call these “fat questions”.  Questions that help us contemplate what’s meaningful and important.  Questions that don’t have easy answers.  My hope is that in grappling with these questions you feel more equipped to participate in dialogue with the town and the BOE about what we want for our kids.

Please join the discussion.

 

6 Comments

  1. POSTED BY nycmontclair  |  April 09, 2014 @ 10:29 am

    Excellent questions Eloiza, very thought provoking. Brings to mind my own education growing up in Queens in the 1970′s and 1980′s. I remember dressing up as Pocahontas and going from class room to class room reading a script and having the kids guess who I was supposed to be. I received a much more well rounded education than my son seems to be getting. We were much more creative and though we had standardized tests, there wasn’t a whole culture built around them. We were assessed on our actual work and creativity was a huge part of our day. We had gym every day, a good amount of time for lunch and recess and we had history and science and they were just as imported as math and language arts (which we referred to as English back then). It seems to me they knew something back then about educating young children that has been lost in today’s reform movement.

  2. POSTED BY alic314  |  April 09, 2014 @ 11:19 am

    Here’s a similar example to your Pocahontas experiment, nycmontclair. Did you dress as Pocahontas did during her years in London, or as a native in her tribe in Virginia? Pretty cool project. I remember a similar project over at Northeast in the later 90’s for 2 kids I was a nanny for at the time. They had kids dress up as important world leaders for an auditorium event. Was cute seeing a 2nd grader dress up as Golda Meir, and totally pull it off! :)
    Okay, to my point.
    When I was in the 5th grade, in a school here in New Jersey, I was part of a gifted and talented club run at my school called STEP (I cannot for the life of me remember what this stood for, but it was an after school G&T club). That year I was in the club, we participated in a contest called The Olympics of the Mind. Our task was to write a final chapter to MOBY DICK. We did a skit about the sinking of the Pequod, made some posters about the lives of sailors on whaling ships. I remember my part of the project entailed getting a cow hip bone from our local butcher and creating a piece of scrimshaw (something my dog ate years later when it ended up in on the floor of my bedroom closet). I believe this was the first time I learned about scurvy and why British sailors are called limey’s. There was lots of creativity involved in this program and project-but no follow up. The teacher who ran it was one of my favorite teachers from grade school, no question there. But besides the piece of scrimshaw, not much from this project sticks in my mind. I’m not even sure we read the entire book, I do remember that we watched a film adaption of MOBY DICK.
    I’m all for creativity, but in my experience, this project and competition of the mind, didn’t really amount to much. The adult in me, looking back on it, would have appreciated a more structured experience for it. The schools we were up against were better organized, better funded and perhaps even had better teachers (again, no disrespect to my teacher, I did really like her, so there’s that. But I’m not sure she had a game plan for the entire event now that I look back). At the end of the entire event, we received a participation certificate. And to my knowledge, there was no follow up or recap of what we had gone through, what we had created or learned in any sense here, not the competitive aspect of the project or even some of the tangibles we had achieved. How would we as a club, as a team, participate in such an event in the future? What did our mentor/advisor/teacher need to do differently next time. I’m not even certain that there was a next time, because in the 6th graded I didn’t participate in the club again.
    I think having some sort of reasoning, some sort of context placed on the very important ideal of creativity is a good thing. And marrying these two aspects, the creative and the quantitative, will only make the Montclair Schools better.

  3. POSTED BY nycmontclair  |  April 09, 2014 @ 1:37 pm

    Alic314, that is unfortunate that you didn’t get more out of your gifted and talented club experience. I do agree that kids need structure. I am just not understanding how that correlates to testing. What I was trying to say is I feel like when I was a child people seemed to realize the whole child mattered and that creativity was just as important as the quantitative. While we did have plenty of standardized tests, especially in High School, the culture surrounding them was very different. I should also add, I didn’t feel like the tests were benefiting me in anyway. I got much more out of the tests my teachers designed, as they directly reflected the work we were doing in class and I received the feedback within days of the exams. I never even saw my test results from my standardized tests, just the test scores. Also, I should add, I was not a terribly strong math or science student, but always did well on my regents exams. So, what I learned from these tests was how to take them. On the other hand my best friend excelled at both math and science but wasn’t a good test taker, so her results didn’t reflect the work she was actually doing in class.

    Our schools have always had tests and if they are well written, accurately reflect what is being taught in the class and flexible in schedule to allow reteaching, etc. I think they can be very beneficial. My issue with the quarterlies is they are forcing a pace that doesn’t allow for reteaching, they are driving and narrowing curriculum and most alarming, I am not notified of the tests and am not shown the results afterwards. I especially don’t understand why my son is not given the test back once it is graded. If he is having problems in any areas I want to know what they are so I can help him at home. All other tests are sent home, so why not the quarterlies?

  4. POSTED BY alic314  |  April 09, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

    That’s nice of you to say, nycmontclair. It wasn’t a complete wash, I do have fond memories of the experience. But I’m not sure I can look at it as an educational success…

    My point is that most projects benefit from a review. I believe the quarterlies can actually serve that purpose. Not a narrowing as you point out, but more as a tool for better focus.

    Is this everyone’s experience with the quarterlies – with results not being sent home? Has your son’s teacher been responsive to requests for results?

  5. POSTED BY qby33  |  April 09, 2014 @ 4:13 pm

    Answer to above question…NO quarterlies are not sent home and it was like pulling teeth to get to see them at a conference. What are they hiding by not sending them home for parents to review? I guess it’s because they will be used again next year. The units are poorly written, teacher are having to rewrite parts of the tests….it’s a shame that our kids are having to go through this. Plus the fact that they are being used as to part of their grades this first year of them! What a nightmare. My son’s math quarterly assessment had 5 grades on it. Which tells me it was curved 5 times! Is that really a true Assessment?

  6. POSTED BY walleroo  |  April 09, 2014 @ 4:49 pm

    Hey I like this blog post. It’s like a Rorschact test. Obviously the poster is in favor of the common core curriculum and charter schools–hey, there’s no wrong answer!

    Seriously, this brings us a little far afield of casting aspersions and recriminations, don’t you think? I’m going over to the dog poop thread…

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