A Problem of Priorities

All this week (and this coming Monday), Moose has been taking the PARCC Assessment at his school, which is the standardized test our state has been using for grades 3-8. It’s a long six days of testing; something we dread all winter long.

The school tries to make the test days a little more fun by having color themes for each day. They also offer a free breakfast to each student who is involved in the testing. So Moose eats his breakfast at home like he does every morning, and then goes to school to eat “Second Breakfast” Hobbit-style. This amuses him, and anything that helps him get through these long days is quite welcome.


There is another side to that story, and my amusement at Moose’s love of his bonus breakfast is tempered by my knowledge of the sad dichotomy at play here. Because if you stop to think about it, you realize why the school offers a free breakfast during the standardized testing period. It’s well-documented that children who have eaten perform better in school, and this should come as no surprise. Hunger, a growling stomach, thinking about your next meal (or sadly wondering where that meal is going to come from) all distract children from their primary task at school…learning. Children who are hungry don’t retain as much information, don’t perform as well, are less likely to succeed.

So, the school offers a free breakfast to the test-takers every morning. Why? Isn’t it obvious? It’s because the school wants good test scores. They want the students to reflect the institution well. They want to minimize as many distractions as possible so the students have good results. They know full bellies help children perform better.

And that right there pretty much sums up the problem with education in America…misplaced priorities.

The days of standardized testing should be the least of the schools’ concerns. If they’re truly worried about the well-being of their students, they should be offering a free breakfast every day, to make sure that on the regular old, normal instruction, ending in “y” days that make up the majority of the school year, the students are focused, as free from distractions as possible, so they can get down to the task of learning. Of absorbing as much information as possible. Of becoming critical thinkers.

But we’ve got it all backwards when it comes to education, and instead of placing the emphasis on the importance of learning, and supporting students as they do that, we instead focus primarily on the results. But if the students haven’t been supported in their learning all year-long, what kind of results can the school really except to achieve?

I understand that there are financial considerations to providing a free breakfast to any student who needs it all year-long. And I know that there are some programs in place that offer free or reduced-cost breakfasts to at least part of the student population already. But I also know that for many, that carries a stigma that free breakfast for everyone doesn’t, and so it’s possible that program isn’t being utilized to its fullest potential in the first place.

I’m glad that for six days, children who otherwise may not have been able to eat breakfast for whatever reason have a morning meal available to them in the school cafeteria. But what about the other 35 weeks of the school year? Until we can figure out how to straighten out the educational priorities in the country, not only are the test results going to continue to disappoint, the children in our school system are not going to receive the education they deserve.

State Testing

It’s that time of year again at Moose’s school…ISAT time.

Now, he hasn’t been affected by this directly, yet. I believe the actual testing begins in third grade. But he’s already indirectly feeling the effects (and has been since he started in the Early Childhood program way back when), as they have signs up all over the school demanding quiet in the hallways, the teachers are constantly reminding them that tests are beings taken, and there’s a general somber feeling that clouds the school. Yes, they try to make it fun, too, by having special themes each day, but those end up being just another hassle, as he tries to locate the right color of shirt to wear each morning for two weeks.

Yes, I said two weeks. That is true bureaucracy for you. Perhaps if we didn’t take two weeks out of every school to test the children’s knowledge on what they’ve learned, the teachers would actually have time to, I don’t know, teach. Or maybe that’s just too reasonable of a thought.

Another Reason We Homeschool

This story about standardized testing in Illinois infuriates me on so many levels.

Writing is such an important skill. Try getting into a good college without writing an essay of some sort. How about the business world? Well written e-mails, proposals, resumés…all important. Even in personal life–more e-mails, letters, etc. But the public schools in the state of Illinois apparently don’t see writing as an important skill to test and track. Who cares if our students are poor writers? We don’t need to know if they’re struggling, so maybe we could teach them better and remedy the situation. Nope, instead we’re just going to ignore the whole issue, because it’s too expensive.

With all of the stupid things our states wastes money on, I can’t believe that they’ve decided that assessing how well schools are teaching writing is not worth the money. Will math and reading be next on the chopping block? As much as I hate the time and money spent on standardized testing, I can’t believe that they’re just throwing out one of the “three R’s” so casually. If you’re going to insist on doing something, do it right, and do it completely. Writing is a cornerstone of language arts, and I think that mastering language arts is one of the most important, if not the most important, things that students need to do.

Even though this story doesn’t impact us directly, it’s also another reason homeschooling is looking better all the time. Indiana is hardly the first state to do this…as a matter of fact, it’s only the most recent in a long line of states that have determined that writing in cursive is no longer a necessary skill for students to master.

Yes, I know that handwriting is something of a lost art. But, I think writing in cursive is important for more reasons than writing it neatly and efficiently. It’s been my experience that most children don’t really understand how to read cursive until they’ve learned how to write in cursive. And there is still need to be able to read cursive. Old documents? Written in cursive. Yes, you can always look them up online, but what if you want to read them for yourself, in a museum, for example? It would be helpful to be familiar with how cursive letters are formed.

Letters from grandparents? Probably written in cursive, and the older generation still prefers to send actual letters to e-mail. And they would also probably appreciate a handwritten letter in response. The art of letter writing should not be lost completely just because of the convenience e-mail offers.

Copywork? OK, probably most public schools don’t even bother with this anymore. But I think it’s important for several reasons, some of which include learning to copy grammar and punctuation appropriately, and learning good writing by copying works from the greats. And copywork goes faster if you can master the flow of cursive.

Do you have to be able to write in cursive? No, of course not. But that doesn’t make it an archaic skill…it’s something that is still worthwhile to master and understand.

Excessive Testing Is a Dangerous Obsession

This is an interesting, but not really surprising, article from The New York Times. I’m appalled every year to see how much time is dedicated to standardized testing at Moose’s school–two full weeks! And the atmosphere in the school for those two weeks is dismal. Just who are these tests supposed to benefit exactly?

“There is a saying that U.S. students are the most tested, and the least examined, of any in the world. American policymakers are quick to turn to testing to cure whatever problems they think exist in schools. Because teachers’ judgment is mistrusted, we test students in the United States more than any other nation, in the mistaken belief that testing produces greater learning.”

via Excessive Testing Is a Dangerous Obsession – Room for Debate – NYTimes.com.