WHAT ME WORRY? Parents Should Not Stress Out over ELA and Math Exams

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WHAT ME WORRY? Parents Should Not Stress Out over ELA and Math Exams

March 31, 2014 - 17:00

I have heard from a number of parents who are concerned about the Common Core exams for Math and ELA which begin statewide on, appropriately enough, April 1st, otherwise known as April Fool's Day.

My sense is that there are many parents who do not understand what these tests are about.

The test scores are used in aggregate to determine the performance of teachers as part of Annual Professional Performance Review ("APPR") and the schools/district on the NYS Report card. They are a legacy of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Law and Obama's Race to the Top program.

The test scores have no value or meaning to the kids themselves.

The test scores do not count at all in their academic grades.

They have no bearing on getting into advanced math or science, tracking into high school or what college
your child will attend.

For 3rd graders the tests were a small fraction of the evaluation for New Rochelle's gifted and talented program, Kaleidoscope, for the small percentage of kids who might otherwise qualify. That was maybe 5 kids a year out of 5,000 tested across all grades. But even that has been done away with because the district feels the scores are not reliable and they come to late in the year to be of any use (as anxious school officials and parents learned last summer).

Put simply, these tests were not created to evaluate kids but rather to evaluate adults!

Some parents are worried that these tests are referred to as "high-stakes" tests and believe this term is applied to their children. It is not.

The stakes are that teachers might get a bad evaluation and not get tenure, same for a principal.

For kids there is zero stakes.

I tell my kids to go and have fun, not to worry because the test will not have any impact on them in any way and that we could care less about how they do on these tests. If they want to doodle on the exam answer sheet we don't care. Some parents are "boycotting" the test, telling their kids to do nothing during the exam time.

I cannot understate the insignificance of these tests for your child or you.

Obviously the parents I speak to ARE concerned...VERY concerned...and so becoming, in a few cases, apoplectic.

I have four children and my wife is a special educator working for the district and a professor of special education at Columbia University's Teachers College, a daughter at Albert Leonard Middle School who is a straight A+ student, a son at New Rochelle High School on the Science Olympiad team, a son who recently graduated from Notre Dame and a daughter who graduated from SUNY-Binghamton and now works for a major business news channel.

We never paid the slightest attention to these exams and our kids seem to be making it through life regardless.

My suggestion to parents worried about the test results is to realize that there is no reason whatsoever to treat the New York State ELA or Math test as if it were the SAT (which IS a high-stakes test for kids).

Even the one shred of impact that once did exist, with admission to Kaleidoscope, no longer applies.

Now you might find some school officials and teachers who might tell you they disagree (slightly); that it is not the case that these tests have zero stakes for kids.

They might argue that the ELA and Math test track the students and inform educators and parents whether students are "on track" to pass the five Regents exams needed to graduate from HS.

They might say the exams are used to identify students who perform poorly, and are then required to receive intervention services.

They might say they are of some limited value to local districts to point to areas of the curriculum where groups of students struggle and may benefit from a different teaching approach or require subsequent re-teaching.

While not untrue, consider why they might say this.

The stated purpose of these exams is for "APPR" and "AYP", acronyms that reflect their use as a tool to measure the performance of teachers, schools, districts and sub-groups within schools, across grade levels and functional ability.

If they were to openly admit that the the test has no meaning or impact on a particular student then the students may not try hard to score well. That would mean what? That the teachers, schools and districts look bad. And they do not want that!

I am not saying people should boycott the test but I am saying that the idea that parents would be stressed about these test scores is nonsensical.

Teachers, staff and administrators in our schools have a wide range of ways to evaluate the needs and performance of your child absent the ELA and Math exams. Do you really think that a teacher would not notice a student is failing in his or her class? Or that a particular student was very intelligent? To think that suggests that our district employs a bunch of automatons who can only discern a child's strengths and weakness if they are provide data from a standardize test.

It is clear that the adults on the district payroll do not want the exams. The district employees have some serious, legitimate reasons for being unsupportive of the exams but the desire not to be subject to objective performance standards is high on their agenda.

Many parents worry about "teaching to the test" and those concerns do overlap with the district employees but that is two circles that only partially overlap. There is also the problem that teachers are pulled out classes after the exams to grade them, a time-consuming process.

Regardless where you come out on these large political and philosophical issues, the notion that parents are stressing over how their child will performance on THESE exams is silly. There are lots of things for parents to worry about. The ELA and Math exams are not one of them.