testing testing 123…456,789

I have test anxiety.

The testing of my children and presumably all children seems to be spinning out of control.  It’s ridiculous.  Not only time consuming and anxiety provoking-I’m growing concerned that we are raising a generation of robots.  Test taking robots.  And if this next generation of children turn into robots…well-any good sci-fi movie can show you how that turns out.  Spoiler alert: They take over and kill us.

Is it near impossible for teachers to have any time to teach?  Has it become impossible to give students adequate time to learn?  Do we have any time left in the schedule for thinking? Pondering? Questioning?  Do teachers have flexibility within the curriculum to do things in their own way in their own time?  Is the Socratic method still alive and well out there? Or is almost all of the time devoted to preparing for and taking the next test?

I think it might be.  I give that an F.

My first grader has 44 assessments that are entered into his report card.  This doesn’t include general assessments under”work habits/social development”, or any special classes like physical education, art or music.  This also does not include twice annual standardized testing in reading and math which is also scored, entered and analyzed.  44 assessments in 174 school days.   He is 7 years old. His teacher has 23 students. The one I contribute to her daily burden counts as twins so I’m sure it feels like 24.  My point is that his teacher distributes, scores and enters about 1500 items each year not including the standardized test data.

My sixth grader has twice annual standardized testing compared to national norms.  (last year he also had state testing in 3 subject areas)  He is graded on a 70/30 system.  70% is “academic achievement” which primarily means tests.  30% of his grade is “academic practice”-homework, small quizzes,written reflection, etc.  If you are middle aged this is what we called “daily work”.

My freshman.  God bless her.  It has been quite the school year.  She is on an 85/15 system.  85% of her grades are based on tests.  15% is the rest.  It’s suffocating.  I wouldn’t survive in this atmosphere because when I was a student, my daily work propped up any less than stellar test scores.  Example: If I did poorly on a synonym test, I could turn in a nice little worksheet or essay or extra credit or large project something to balance out the score.  In this new world, you MUST do well on the tests or your grades are screwed.  Synonyms for screwed include: hopeless, ruined, broken.

I fear my children aren’t learning as much as they could be.  Learning is different from studying.  They are studying. They spend hours studying.  And I have one that would be an excellent Jeopardy contestant.  Steel trap memory.  Great test taker.  But I’m beginning to wonder about long term outcomes for their brains because it appears that there is little practice of critical thinking skills in school.

Most recently, the middle school instituted a modified “lock down” for grades not performing standardized tests.  They sat in the same room for a couple of hours (with no access to wi-fi or the bathroom)  quietly reading or watching movies so that the other grades could take their tests in relative silence.  My son watched Shaun the Sheep. Huh?     I mention no wi-fi because now that they have been issued iPads, their homework and reading material and school life is all on the device.  So-during this testing time for other grades they couldn’t have any academic instruction themselves and likely developed some bladder infections too.

The high school has juniors sit for the ACT all on the same floor of the building.  Seniors have that day off. Sophomores take a practice exam that day. Freshman have regular classes in different classrooms than the norm (since juniors are all on one floor) and an early release.  All of them reminded to maintain the utmost quiet for the ‘test takers.’

Really?  Will an atmosphere of absolute quiet make that much of a difference in the score?   These kids are going to be our future electricians and doctors and police officers and architects and researchers and salespeople and NBA players (I threw that in for the delusional basketball parents…ha ha ha)   These jobs don’t offer quiet.  Don’t firefighters make important decisions amidst chaos?  Don’t teachers?  Don’t we all?  Surgeons make critical decisions every day.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want any surgeon working on me who might be rattled by ambient noise.

Clearly, the militant enforcement of an atmosphere of quiet amps up the drama of the importance of testing.  Performance. Achievement.  Data points.  Is it any wonder we have a large and growing population of kids on anti-anxiety medication?  It may not be a direct cause and effect.  But it isn’t helping.

The poor teachers.  We have shackled them to testing schedules and pigeon holed them into narrow curriculums.  We are squelching their creativity so they can in turn squelch it in their students.  They have so many kids all along the continuum to shepherd (shove) into performing well on tests or their jobs are on the line. When does teaching just disintegrate into rote ‘training’ for the exam?

The kids eventually end up learning how to play the game.  They turn in a couple assignments and spend the rest of the precious time studying for tests.  Sometimes they retake one to get a better score.  This causes extra anxiety as the new and old tests start to stack up.   They read the SparkNotes instead of reading the book.  This causes me sadness and rage.  I love to read so skipping the book to skim through Spark Notes just seems tragic.  Plus, in time will they think about that book the way I do?  No-because they won’t have a life experience that reminds them of the SparkNotes.  They missed the experience.  The rage?  If I have to be honest, there isn’t time to really read the book sometimes.  They don’t write many papers.  A few.  They do take tests about the book and the answers to the test are in the SparkNotes. Putting down 150 pages of a novel on top of everything else just isn’t practical every time.  I get it.  We are training them to cheat themselves out of an education.

There are 16.5 school days left before summer.  I can’t wait.  My kids can step back into being children and step out of being students.

Maybe they will read books. Maybe they will think long, slow, winding thoughts and draw their own conclusions.

Maybe they will learn something new.

2015 Back to School Speech: Please please please don’t be a Jackhole

It’s back to school time.  My kids start next week.  Fresh pencils, shiny non-marking soles on clean shoes, class schedules, haircuts all around, locker combinations and the fresh hope of a new school year with possibilities of making a new friend.  A clean slate.

We have done our ‘meet the teachers’ and walked the halls to find classrooms. We went to the orientations. We have signed slips and sent money for the lunch accounts. Everyone has a backpack. It’s time for the annual back to school lecture.

I usually have a talk this time of year with each of them as my kids face their excitement/anxiety/anticipation about the up and coming year and I’ve given all 3 of them some pointed lectures as they transition to high school, transition to middle school and transition to first grade respectively.  3 different schools. 3 different start and stop times.  Big changes are underway.

In fact, everyone around them keeps commenting, “WOW. Big transitions. How do you feel? Are you excited? Are you nervous?”  Over and over and over and over.  I say it too. To other kids.  Isn’t that what we do as adults?  Promote excitement laced with hints of our own anxiety?

My back to school lecture series usually are cheerful pep talks about having a great year and not sweating the small stuff.  Big transitions are happening for me too.  I’m hitting them hard this year.  I’m getting deliberate with my message and I have needed to spell.it.out.

My theme-Don’t be a jackhole.  You are better than that.  The world is filled with jackholes and you are NOT to be one of them. Ok.  I haven’t used that exact phrase (I do NOT need the first grader to have that in his repertoire) but basically I expect better from them because they have no excuses. None.  They have it easy.  This year should be about making it a great school year-for someone else. 

School can be wonderful.  School can be terrifying.  While I appreciate the vast efforts on the part of the school as a whole, wonderful teachers and support staff to encourage kids, help build bonds between students, teach respect, fight bullying, create a tight knit community, it ultimately falls to the kids to build a positive culture.  The atmosphere created in any group is largely dependent on the participants. I want my kids to be an active, purposeful part of building a positive and welcoming atmosphere because they can.  They have all the tools.  And if they are either mere bystanders or pulling in a negative direction-I’ll…I’ll…I’ll..well-they will regret it sorely. Kids are the real foot soldiers in the war against school misery.

They can do better. Do more. It costs them nothing but means everything.

The high schooler got the “You can get over yourself.  You can. You might feel apprehensive in situations A,B,C…but suck it up.  Step out of your own mind for a minute…There are likely 50 girls around you who would give their LEFT leg to live your reality.  Find those girls.  Say hello to them. Walk with them to science. They need you. Find those people who have an actual problem.  A poor shoe choice that leads to a blister is not an actual problem. (that happened here recently-we had to have a discomfort versus pain conversation)  Look for the girl who just lost a parent.  Look for the boy who failed 3 classes last year and now is paralyzed with fear that he can’t cut it in high school.  The childhood friend who feels like they have been left out or left behind.  The kid you have known for years that didn’t get enough for breakfast and never does.  The transfer student who literally doesn’t know anyone.  The friend of a friend who looks ‘perfect’ but a lot of not perfect is going on and she is suffering. For real. Some of these kids are in disguise.  They are in real trouble but they have Uggs and Vineyard Vines and play competitive softball and get good grades. Outward appearances can be very misleading.  High school is full of kids facing adult problems.

The middle schooler got the, “I know it is all new for you too but it is PAINFUL for some of the kids…a new school, a much bigger system, it can be overwhelming and isolating.”  He didn’t get it.  He needed a specific example.  I asked him about a classmate he has known for years.  It went like this:

“Who is so and so friends with?”

“Oh-he hangs out with such and such.  Mainly just him. They are close friends.”

“Ok.  What if they get different lunches this year?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean if they DON’T have the same lunch…who will he sit with?”

Shrugs. “I dunno.”  Me waiting silently.  Watching to see if any synapses fire.  Waiting.  Engage deep breathing while waiting.  I can’t take it.  “In the lunchroom…where will he go…if his bestie isn’t there…he is kind of shy. Maybe he has trouble joining in.”  More waiting.

“Oh.  Mom, seriously.  What do you want me to do?  Find him? Track him? Watch for him at the door?” (synapses did fire)

“Yes.  That is what I want you to do. Watch for him.  Watch for others that you have gone to school with for SIX years.  Invite them over to sit with you if they look lost. Ask the girls you know to sit with you if they don’t have a spot.  They need a spot.  It is so hard when you feel like you don’t fit in and it feels good to be asked. It can be brutal for the girls.  Just cut them a break. It could change their whole day or week!  How would you feel if it were you? It just takes so little on your part.”

OKAY. Sheesh.”

We also then covered this diagram.  Not kidding. The school has tables that have fixed spots in groups of six.  If you have a group of 4 but then a group of 3 walks up there is an odd person out which inevitably leads to trauma and/or drama.  This led to the tutorial, “Then see with an odd number you could offer to go with the single person and start a new table.”  Honestly.  It should be simple.  But it isn’t.  It looks like a complicated football play.


The first grader got a modified speech (attention span of a fruit fly), “Be a kind friend to everyone because everyone needs a friendly face in first grade.  On the playground. Or on the bus. If other kids act up and get sassy or tease another friend, I expect you to act like a gentleman.  Other kids will follow your lead.   I know you can do this.  Let’s use all your charm for good.”

They might not get it.  I’m thankful I can’t be a fly on the wall.  They are coping with their own insecurities and stresses during the school day.  They might not be able to do it.  They might not be strong enough. They might think they are on the outside of the inner circle.  I keep reminding them “There really is no inner circle.  It’s an illusion.  You can just draw your own circle.”

But I hope they will try.  I hope they look around and are vigilant and spend just a minute thinking about someone else.  I hope they include someone who needs to be included.   I hope they say hello and use the other persons name.  I hope they occasionally notice what is going on with somebody else instead of focusing on themselves. I hope they make FREAKING EYE CONTACT to acknowledge they saw another classmate in the hallway. They are in this together even if it doesn’t feel that way to them.

I believe these 3 could do it.   They have nothing but their own self-consciousness standing in their way.  Self consciousness may be a developmental hurdle but not a real roadblock. And if they do, if they can get out of their own way and if these three can just bring in 3 others into the fold with circles they draw themselves I will be satisfied.   If they make even infinitesimal progress toward making school a calmer, safer, more tolerable haven for everyone this year, I will stop lecturing on this topic.

Until 2016.

Go Ahead Hit Reply All-I Will Hurt You

On the long list (and growing) of modern inventions designed to make life easier/better/faster that in turn ruins our lives, at the top of my list has to be email.

I asked my husband what his emails look like on the worst days at work. He replied, “Hmm…maybe upwards of 300. That would be a pretty crazy day.”

300.  That sounds terrible. And none of those are from West Elm or Schoolhouse Electric. He doesn’t even know about West Elm or Schoolhouse Electric. And West Elm and Schoolhouse Electric, you better not tell him about what we have going on. You need me.

Aside from West Elm and Schoolhouse Electric and every place I have ever ordered from, tried to get a coupon from, given my email on a tiny slip of paper to and daughter companies of the above etc…the bulk of my emails originate from things relating to my children. I have 3 children that range from Kindergarten to 8th grade. Annually, they participate in school, dance, scouts, soccer, choir, orchestra, camps, church, birthday parties, etc. Emails come in every day from one of the above. Here are a few tips for organizations about sending out mass emails to me if you don’t want me to make fun of you:

  1. Don’t put ALERT, URGENT , PRIORITY, or IMPORTANT in the Re: line. You just got yourself an automatic delete. If it were truly any of those things…you wouldn’t send it to me in an email. Hey…send a carrier pigeon. That I would notice.
  2. Check your group email lists. If I have a kid in rec sports and you send me a bunch of crap about traveling. I hate you now.
  3. Don’t send me an email about something happening 8 months from now. I delete those too. You’ll tell me again at least twice or change the date.
  4. Quit asking me for money via email. I currently get emails asking for money from 1,2,3,4,5,6 institutions of higher learning…1 that has yet to yield a graduate from this house.  I love to support the organizations that are near and dear to this family.  Call me. I’d love to talk to a real human about it.
  5. Don’t send me a bunch of drivel that is already on your website or at least don’t contradict your OWN website. (That happens a lot)
  6. Don’t keep my name in some sort of email purgatory 4 years after we are part of your organization. I’ve unsubscribed. You keep sending stuff. I’ve broken up with you. Go away.

School is the biggest offender of email glut…out of necessity (3 kids, 3 grades, blah blah).  HOWEVER…Three types of email originate from school. I get weekly updates from (4-5) of the teachers and the principal. Our district often pats itself on the back for their wonderful communication. True, you could never claim they didn’t send you information. The are winning the volume war.  However, if there is a non-school day it means 5 phone calls, emails, announcement on the website, coverage on local media, coverage on social media.  I wouldn’t get that kind of coverage if I had a family member win a Grammy.  School is a bit trigger happy over there because there are many emails that require follow-up emails because of an error in the original email.  But again…good job school…if it crossed your mind you sent it to me and you could never say that you didn’t tell me.  I can’t find many of them because you sent me 20 emails when I was away for one week ( I counted) .  You win.

Second, special events emails from various district sources such as choir concerts, fundraisers, after school clubs, invitations to be part of this or that, volunteering opportunities, updates, summer classes,etc.  Great.  I write it down in my paper calendar because I am part Amish and because when my husband’s phone crashes I can laugh at him. Done.

Third, parent to parent emails to coordinate school events like classroom parties, book fairs, talent shows and the like. This last category is a problem. It’s a problem because despite the fact that anyone with functioning corneas can see 47 people in the group email list AND can see the specific instruction to “reply directly to me” they hit Reply All.    25% of the population hits reply all. I made up that statistic. It feels like 25%. On a light day.

Here is an example:

To: Jen, (and 15 other moms)

From: Poor sap who signed up to run this circus

Re: party donations

We need cups, napkins, water bottles and m&m’s.

Please reply to me and let me know what you can contribute.

Thanks!

(cute emoji)

————————————————————————-

Then all hell breaks loose. The rest of the inbox looks like this.

————————————————————————-

To: everyone

Re: party donations

I’ll bring cups. Do you want plastic or paper?

-b 🙂

————————————————————————-

To: everyone

Re:party donations

I think paper. Don’t you think? Also, do you guys have the hockey tournament this weekend? I could swing by and get them if you don’t have time. No problem!

-K

————————————————————————

To: everyone:

Re: party donations

No b..don’t bring cups. I already have some. I wish WE could be at the tournament but Susie has a dance competition.

(sad cat face emoji)    -Z

———————————————————————

To: everyone

Re:party donations

Oh thanks Z!  Ok…Should I bring plates then?  Let me know.

🙂  ~b

——————————————————————–

To: Jen (+15 other moms)

From: Poor sap who signed up to run this circus

Re: party donations

Thanks so much for jumping in ladies! Actually, the Andersons who own JUICE BARN have donated custom juice boxes with everybody’s name on them so we don’t even need cups!

Let me know who can bring plates.  We still need plates!

Thank you! (hearts, rainbows, unicorn graphics)

—————————————————————

NOOOOOOOOO!   I want that hour of my life back. Now I regret offering to bring something and have developed some frosty feelings toward a few people I haven’t met yet.

School moms…I do love you. I would not trade you for any other group of school moms on earth.  I know this because I have friends that are in other areas of the state and country that don’t have this team of people who could run a state or country if need be.   Many of you would drop everything and pick up my kid if I needed it and so I’ll bring the plates into perpetuity but I don’t want to discuss it in emails.

I could be wasting my time in dozens of other ways…like reading a blog about too many emails.

cc: Everyone