Tuesday, January 14, 2014

You aren't all you are meant to be as a kid (a comment on all this standardized testing bullshit)

I try, try, try mightily to not get hung up on grades or test results.  I spent most of my educational career prior to my master's degree too concerned with what grade I got.  After teaching 6th graders who could not read, I became very unimpressed with the whole concept of grading.

Of course, it is an altogether different story as a parent because I want my children to do well, to as often as they are able do their best, to take their education seriously, and grades are, unfortunately, part of that equation.  

Last year, N took the CogAt to determined whether she is "AP material."  She scored a 23.  I started looking a bit into middle schools and discovered that a downtown school that feeds into one of the best high schools in the nation has a 24 as their minimum score for acceptance into their "gifted and talented" program.  So I suggested N take the AP test again this year....just to see.

When I opened the result yesterday and saw that on her second go she scored a 21, I was briefly disappointed because 1. this score was lower (and lower always means bad, right?) and 2. it means that downtown middle school isn't really a feasible "plan" (her mother's plan, I mean) anymore. 

But after that feeling, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders because the decision of whether to attend this particular school was taken away from me/us without any stewing, hemming or hawing on my part.  

Sometime this fall, after a discussion with my book club momma friends, I began to consider the idea of whether it would be better for N to be a "big fish in a small pond" or a "small fish in a big pond."  Her personality would be much better suited to the former, and the honest truth is that if she had scored well enough to get into this particular downtown middle school, she would be a small fry.  Any anxiety she might suffer as a result of this situation would, of course, become anxiety for her mother.  And we don't want that, even if we temporarily thought we might.

I am working diligently to remind myself that all this testing and AP and pre-emptive middle school decision-making is really and truly ridiculous.  I "get" the need for proficiency and the desire for distinguished, but none of these kids is who they are meant to be.  In all our efforts to reform education and make a common core of knowledge, we forget, I think, that these minds are so young and unformed and...stupid, in their own wonderfully naive way.  

As a 40-year-old, I am far, far more intelligent than I was a kid.  I understand math problems in a way I never, ever, ever dreamed I would as a 3rd or 4th grader.  I can read a book I read as a high schooler and be amazed that I only got a 1/4 of its meaning and depth out of it.  

When I get to worrying that my children aren't as smart or witty as I think they should be or I worry that they don't understand math as deeply as they might or their vocabulary isn't exactly where I think it could be, I think about all the things I wasn't when I was in elementary and middle and high school.  

I think about all the things I'm better at now that I'm older.  All the ways in which the knowledge I had as a kid has been filtered through experience and change and practice and wisdom, and these are not things that standardized tests of any kind will ever be able to measure or appreciate.  

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