When I think of my own elementary school experience, I remember recess games and lunch time chats. I remember “round robin” reading and math fact drills. I remember class time and spelling tests, but I also remember having time to play with my friends, and that was one of the highlights of going to school. We were able to have two times a day where we had unstructured recess time to just go outside and have time to play with our friends.
20 years ago, I was in college studying elementary education, and I couldn’t wait to get into the classroom to use what I had learned. I was taught that children learned best in relaxed settings and with cooperative learning groups. I learned that children did well through informal assessments and hands-on learning. I was aware of all the learning styles: kinesthetic, auditory, tactile, and visual, and how my teaching needed to be able to reach all of those learners.
I truly loved teaching my kindergartners for seven years. Then, I stayed home to raise my own children.
It has been 10 years since I have been out of the classroom. And, although I am not quite 40 years old yet, I feel like a dinosaur in the education field. So many things are changing, and I am not sure it is all that I wanted for my own children in the public education system.
A few months ago, I cleaned out my children’s playroom and decided to donate several floor puzzles I used when I was teaching to the kindergarten teachers at my children’s school. My own children have outgrown them, and I knew my own kindergartners loved them when I was teaching. I dropped them off at the school, and a few weeks later, I ran into one of the kindergarten teachers there. She thanked me for the puzzles, and told me she was one of the only teachers who actually still had her students even do puzzles in the classroom.
I was shocked. Kindergartners didn’t do puzzles in the classroom anymore?
She told me that so many things have changed and so many new standards were being pushed down from the upper grades to the lower grades that it really is all many of teachers can do to try to teach the concepts. Let alone, have time for the students to have fun in the class.
In Texas, as in many states, the standards for what students need to learn has been going through a great amount of change. Last year, Texas started teaching revised math standards which meant that some concepts which were originally being introduced and taught in a particular grade, were being moved down to a lower grade. In many cases, concepts which had not been tested before were now being taught in the classroom.
According to an article posted on The Dallas Morning News on September 5, 2014, third grade math standards were 57% the same, 41% new concepts which had not been tested before and 2% which were moved down to third grade from fourth grade. In sixth grade, 43% of the standards were the same, 57% were moved down from grade 7-Algebra one. My son was in third grade last year for this shift, and it was a struggle for him to learn new concepts which he had not been taught before but was expected to master in third grade before going to fourth.
My daughter was in first grade last year, and I remember her math pages coming home with three and four sentence word problems on them. I remember thinking, “This is September and how many children are really able to read these problems and comprehend how to figure them out? These children are only just beginning to really understand how to read, and they are being asked to read to learn before they have really learned to read.”
There was a question in particular I remember seeing on her math homework that said, “How do you solve 9+3? Is it 10+1, 10+2, or 10+3?”
Of course my 1980’s math drills came in handy, and I knew it was 10+2 because that was equal to 12. But, my daughter didn’t know that. She wasn’t being taught to memorize math facts like I had been. She was being taught to turn the 9 into a 10 and then add 2 more. It was a whole new approach to teaching and understanding math that I am still wrapping my head around.
Right now we are in the full swing of STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic readiness) testing season. That means that campuses are closed for a week at a time, and the walls in hallways and classrooms are covered with bulletin board paper. Wrappers are taken off of water bottles and the children are not allowed to read a book when they are done with the test. They are told to wait, put their heads down or take a nap until all the students are done. They eat their lunches in silence. Why, you ask, are all these rules put in place? So, that elementary students are not accused of somehow cheating on this test. Every campus is scrutinized for following the exact directions for test administration. The skills which are being assessed on this test are all the new standards which have been implemented. And somehow, it seems age appropriate to test elementary students in an environment that seems more fitting for a prison than a school.
My own son just took the four hour fourth grade Writing STAAR this past week and he usually has great grades and no reason at all to think he may not pass. But, the morning of the test, he begged me to drive him to school instead of riding his bike (which he loves) so he wouldn’t use up all his energy for the STAAR test. He told me he was really nervous about taking the test. I felt bad for him. Is this what elementary education has come to? Fourth graders nervous about a test? I kept thinking, “My own son does very well in school. How are the children who aren’t doing so well feeling about taking the test?” The fourth grade has a math and reading STAAR test coming up in May so they can go through all of this again for four hours at a time.
I don’t know what the answer to all of this is. Assessments have a time and place so teachers and administration can see the progress of the students. But is it appropriate to move standards from the higher grades to the lower grades? Are the lower elementary students developmentally ready for these standards to be taught? How are the teachers dealing with the teaching of these standards?
I have seen in my own children stress and anxiety over taking tests, teachers more stressed about teaching the standards and getting ready for the tests to be given. This stress is trickling down to the students, and in turn, the students re not enjoying school the way I was taught they should. I am not seeing much time for the kids to simply be kids anymore. The amount of recess time seems to be dwindling as well in order to make room for more academic time. It is the recess time and the time the students have unstructured play which is actually beneficial to their academic and social development. I understand there has to be a way to track what the students are learning, but is this the way to do it? Should we be testing the students in this manner and this type of environment? I know this is not the way I was taught the students should be assessed when I was a student in elementary education, but then again..maybe I am just a dinosaur.
Do your own children have standardized tests where you live and if so, how do you and your children deal with them?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Meredith. You can check out her life as an expat in Nigeria and her transition back to the U.S. on her blog www.wefoundhappiness.blogspot.com/
Photo credit to Wei-Yen Tan. This photo has a creative commons attribute license.