Enough Is Enough: Why I Withdrew My Daughter From Public School
For third graders, DIBELS and MAP testing is just the beginning. A few weeks into the school year, these children were also given a beginning of the year reading assessment: pencil and bubble sheets, quiet classrooms, minimal preparation. Ostensibly, a pre-test like this is geared to help schools identify students who are in danger of not passing the official third grade end-of-grade reading test. This year, that test takes on additional significance as our North Carolina General Assembly hastily passed legislation last year called Read To Achieve which says that any student not passing the end of year reading assessment in grade 3 must be retained. I am oversimplifying this for now but, essentially, in our large urban school district, our numbers could hover around six thousand students, out of 10,000 in the third grade, not passing the end-of-grade reading test and being in danger of retention.
Thankfully, my daughter scored very well on this beginning of the year assessment, well enough so that her end of year score doesn’t actually matter. She will advance to 4th grade no matter what. However, this done deal doesn’t get her out of any test prep or mind-numbing practice EOG sessions. She will slog through the practice EOGs and practice passages with the rest of her cohort. And when her practice EOGs are finished, she will sit at her desk and do nothing. See, in spite of her stellar beginning of the year scores, she has to take the end of grade tests so that her school can be given a grade based on her performance and her teacher can be evaluated based on the high-stakes testing scores of the class. She needs to take more tests, not so that she can be assessed and evaluated, but so her school and teacher can.
By the time December of this school year rolled around, my older daughter was crying before school every morning and begging me to let her stay home. Her twin brother takes the test prep and repetitive class lectures in stride telling me all is good because he has perfected the art of reading a book hidden in his desk. He is averaging one book per day. I encouraged my daughter to stick it out past winter break, participate in her school science fair, and then maybe we could look at other options. She participated in and won the science fair. I was hoping that the science fair win would provide some incentive to stick it out, toughen up, and just make it through the year. Not so much.
And so, in January, I withdrew my daughter to have her homeschooled. In North Carolina, all you need to register as a homeschool is a valid email address and proof of a high school diploma. I faxed over my teaching license in lieu of a high school diploma and I got the green light to be an official homeschool almost immediately.
As I watch my son and his third grade friends slog through this painful school year, I know that my decision to withdraw his twin was the right one. I have watched this testing mania explode this year, and we aren't even at the hot week of May when the school will become somber and tomblike and students in grades three through five will do nothing every morning but take a different end-of-grade test and then sit at their desk doing nothing while their classmates finish. I know that allowing my daughter to read and write and explore her own interests this year is a million times better than watching a child who has always loved to learn withdraw from friends and family and lose her thirst for knowledge.
If, at any point in the last decade, you had told me I would be a homeschool parent, I would have laughed incredulously. As an educator and an engaged citizen, I want our public schools to work. I want our public schools to be educating and graduating other committed, capable, and involved citizens. But as I watch the love for learning being beaten out of young, eager, students by this excessive testing situation, I know that we are heading down a path that is not only problematic in the short term but will do our state and our community a major disservice going forward.
As a community, whether or not you have a third grader, whether or not you even have children in the public schools, this trajectory should bother you. The continued silence from our citizenry is interpreted as nothing but support for high-stakes testing. Get educated. Speak up. Contact your principal, your school board, your state legislators, and your national representatives. Heck, contact Arne Duncan and let him know that this testing situation is a mess and cannot continue. As a student, a parent, a grandparent, a business owner, or an employee, public education matters. We need it to be good. Our kids and our communities deserve better.