Reflecting on priorities of family & work
I’m just going to put it out there from the start – we’ve opted out our 3rd grade kids from standardized testing at their public school. ‘Tis the season in our public schools as instruction halts for test prep and testing. Schools send letters and emails home asking that we as parents ensure our students get a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast for each day of testing – and don’t be absent. The message – “testing is more important than learning.” Sorry for the mini-rant. A few things on this I want to put out there up front so as this message does not get co-opted:
It’s also about a conflict between work and family. An earlier blog post focused on the complimentary nature of things I’ve learned as a father that help me at work “and vice versa”. This current blog focuses on a conflict (standardized testing) I have between a value at work and what I value with my own kids. It boils down to a macro issue (society) vs. a micro issue (my kids). Let me explain.
At educational nonprofits (my work), success in gaining more clients and more philanthropic funding lies largely on ones ability to prove, through rigorous research, that products and services produce positive results in student achievement – and do so at scale. Student growth on standardized test scores has been a bellwether for proof of programmatic effectiveness. In our arena, such proof is the gold standard. This is an entirely appropriate use of standardized tests – the data is used to evaluate programmatic effectiveness over multiple states, districts, schools, and grade-levels for large numbers of students and teachers. And, our programs and services are not designed specifically to show success on these specific assessments – they are designed to show success on any student assessment. This is a macro use and on the macro level, statewide, standardized assessments are valuable for this cause and for other large, systemic purposes.
But this is about my kids (the micro). I do not want my kids’ school year reduced down to a single-point assessment over the course of a random week in Spring – particularly at 9 years-old. What if they have a bad day? How accurate is that single-point test then? I much prefer the hours and days spent prepping for and then taking the statewide assessments to focus on teaching and learning; opting my kids out of the testing will provide them with some of these hours and days back into their education as they will be provided with appropriate learning opportunities while their classmates are testing. There are much better, less time-consuming means to assess individual student progress and to do so over time.
I also know that my kids would stress about the testing. They stressed about it last year when they weren’t even testing, talking to my wife and me about how important the test must be because all of the adults at the school told them it was. They asked if they would have to take the test next year and worried about what it was all about and what they would have to know. My daughter would stress trying to get everything right; my son would stress trying to get everything done on time (even though it is largely un-timed). Testing stress is not necessarily harmful and I do want my kids to get accustomed to it – just not at 9 years-old and not for a test that does not matter to them (unlike college-entrance exams, for instance).
I’ve heard the argument from other parents. How will you know how your kids are doing in comparison to others? First of all, I don’t care how my kids are doing against other kids (and besides, the new tests don’t measure this anymore anyway – they measure students against a set of standards and not against each other: see criterion referenced v. norm referenced). I care how they are doing on their own path; to that end, I trust my knowledge and the knowledge of my kids’ teachers on what my kids should know and be able to do in order to assess how my kids are progressing in school. I’ve read and re-read the Common Core State Standards and all of the accompanying documents. Standardized tests could be used as one measure of assessing progress, but far too often defaults as the only measure.
Peter Drucker, renowned management guru, is most often credited with the quote – “What gets measured, gets managed” and we’ve taken that to an extreme in education. I much prefer a quote oft attributed to Albert Einstein – “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” For our family, the real value of schooling is on what is not counted – being an engaged part of a community, socially constructing knowledge, politeness and kindness, creativity, joyfulness, passion, persistence, and on and on and on.
And so in lies the conflict between work and family. If all parents opted their kids out of standardized testing we may never fully understand large educational trends – like those I tackle at work. In this case, as in most – life is prioritized over work.
What are your thoughts?