Enough Is Enough: Why I Withdrew My Daughter From Public School
Since moving to the south from the northeast, there have been many aspects of public education that have taken me by surprise over the past few years—both as a parent and as a teacher. The long school day (7 ½ hours), the low teacher pay (47 or 48th in the country), and the limited teacher education programs in my region (2 colleges, one public, one private) have all been disconcerting to me as a new North Carolina resident. But my single biggest issue that seems to keep getting worse is testing.
I had my first glimpse at testing madness when my twins (now nine and in the third grade) were in kindergarten. For weeks at the end of their kindergarten year, their classrooms were essentially on lockdown while some students took end of grade exams and others took field tests (kindergarteners included) for another testing endeavor. No specials were held: art, gym, music, etc, limited recess, lots of stress. Apparently, my son’s teacher was so burnt out that she took one of the testing weeks off and went on a cruise. No unions here, anything goes. A disenchanted group of stir-crazy five- and six-year-olds were left with a substitute teacher for five long days. After that experience, I naively believed that I had seen the depths of crazy and our schools and state legislature had learned their lesson. Little did I know I was so wrong.
The two years following the field-testing debacle went by relatively uneventfully. The only big scandal that didn’t seem to be a scandal was when our local school board voted to add 45 minutes to the elementary school day and not raise teacher pay. I barely heard a peep from our community about that. Now that my five-year-old rolls off the bus after 5pm, I certainly wish my fellow citizens had maybe been a little more vocal about the lunacy of that endeavor. Alas, here we are, a couple years later, extended school day firmly in place, teacher pay frozen, high teacher turnover, test scores stagnate or falling for many students, and, instead of working together to find classroom solutions to sub-par academic achievement, state and local officials just keep piling on the tests.
This year, as a third grade student in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, a child will spend more time testing in one year than I ever did in all my years of public school combined. The year begins with a DIBELS 3D reading assessment. This test is given one-on-one by the classroom teacher. My daughter and many of her classmates scored at the top of the chart for the DIBELS test. In fact, since this test is only intended for students in grades K through 5, some of these students maxed out the test results at the start of the 3rd grade school year. Unfortunately, the NCDPI (North Carolina Department of Instruction) mandated this year that all elementary students take the DIBELS test three times per year. So, even though she can’t score any higher and show much (any) growth on this test, the teacher must sit with her again in December and again in April and do this 20-minute one-on-one reading test over and over. While the one student is getting tested, what are the other 23 students doing? Certainly not learning anything new. Certainly not loving school.
Some point after taking the DIBELS 3D test, classes are ushered in, one at a time, into our antiquated computer lab to sit and take the reading and math MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) tests. These computer based tests take multiple class periods and they must be taken on a computer. Our school has over 600 students and one computer lab. Speaking of math, do the math on the efficiency of that testing madness. This time, NCDPI doesn’t mandate that all students take this test three times per year, our school district does. After my kindergartener came home with her December MAP testing results showing her reading ability fell over 80 percentile points, an investigation was launched. Testing error? Broken computer? Nope. Testing fatigue. My kinddergarten aged daughter said she was tired, it was hard to hear the questions, and her teacher told her she was reading like a first grader. So, of course, like any savvy five-year-old, she clicked through that computer-based test as fast as possible and got the heck back to her fun classroom.
My third-grade daughter, on the other hand, is hyper-conscientious and seems to take forever to get through these MAP tests. She carefully thinks through each question and painstakingly picks an answer. She would come home crying that her MAP testing still was not done and she had to return, yet again, to the computer lab to keep working.