Friday, July 10, 2009

Why our 4th grader might be smarter than our 5th grader

*July post for Yahoo Mother Boards.

As I mentioned last month, one post per month will be on a topic provided by Yahoo Mother Boards. This month, they've asked us to explore the idea of summer learning, the research that states our kids can lose as much as 2 months' worth of learning in the summer months, and how we as mothers handle this.

It reminded me of what I would say in response to those who would talk about the show "Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader?" The show is successful, and the adults sometimes not, because we have become a nation of test takers.

Back in the '90s, we were actually debating the merits of standardized testing, and whether or not these tests were an accurate measure of the quality of our child's education (guess where I'd come down in that debate).

Then we had No Child Left Behind. And it seemed like everyone gave up on fighting this fight.

Now, we have sites like that tell us how well the neighborhood school, or the nearby charter school that we're considering, did in last year's testing. I've read many articles in the LA Times questioning the value of charter schools because some of them don't have high test scores.

I'm sorry, but what happened to wondering what the test scores tell us?

The test scores tell us how well our kids can take a test. They do not tell us anything about how much they retain.

From my own learning experience, I was never the *best* test-taker, but I wasn't the worst, either. I took my share of AP classes and other advanced English classes for most of my academic career. But I can't answer a good amount of questions on that TV show, either.

I can, however, tell you the three federal branches of government. 2/3 of Americans cannot.

I can tell you that in my own education, I've retained more when I had to write about it than any scantron test I've taken.

I can express myself at least well enough so that you know how I feel about gay marriage, but I can't say that I remember the exact years of World War I. But really, beyond possibly winning some money on a game show, I can't say that not knowing has cost me much.

My point (and I do have one) is this: I don't care so much if Riley goes into 4th grade not remembering what she did the last two months of 3rd grade for a few reasons.

I'm not sure how much they actually got done in May and June. May was testing month, and in the two to three weeks of testing, they generally didn't have homework and didn't have a lot of new things they were learning (yet another strike against standardized testing, if you ask me: it shortens the already too short school year). In June, there were special events, and short attention spans. And I can't even remember what I worked on in June, so how can I really expect the same of Riley?

The second reason is, it doesn't matter. Within the first few weeks, there will be assessment testing in her class (which will most likely be a mixture of two different grades, thanks to the budget cuts in CA), and she will be put in a reading group that most closely matches her level, and I don't even know how they're going to work having 30 different students that each have their own level (and speed) of learning.

Which is another reason it doesn't matter: even if Riley herself doesn't lose two months' worth of learning, some students will and some students will have lost less and some students will have lost more. There's going to be some degree of either catch-up or slow-down for every student in that class of fourth and/or third and/or fifth graders.

So as a parent, I'm more concerned (and frustrated and exasperated) at the state of our education system as a whole than a couple of months at the beginning or end of the year.

I understand that parental involvement is key in my children's education; I'd just like to see some involvement from the education system, too.


Tara R. said...

I can't stand standardized testing in FLA. "Failing' the test can be a determining factor in grade promotion and high school graduation. I don't know if it's the same in other states, but I don't believe it should be that critical in passing or failing school.

Kim Moldofsky said...

Great post. It's a sad, but true, point that the last 4-6 weeks of school aren't focused on learning. And then the first 6-10 weeks of the school year are review....

I'm part of the Yahoo group too, and reading these posts has got me wondering why I'm not homeschooling.

jenn said...

Well said.

I enjoyed learning and always did well in school. But certain subjects that I struggled with - like math - I learned just enough to make it through the test, and then I forgot it all. That's why I just ordered The Algebra Survival Guide. I need to remember how to do Algebra before I start back to college!

Natalie said...

I have a lot to say, but I'm finding as I type it out, it's not coming out cohesively. So, let me just say this, I am more concerned about the parents say on than I am about the actual "grade". However, a grade of '3' is cause for alarm no matter which way you slice it. When the third grade (and on) literacy rate is at 55 percent, there is a problem. There are a number of factors that can influence this (demographic, economic status), but the fact of the matter is that a Title 1 school that failed AYP last year will focus its energy on the problem.

I don't want my son to fall through the cracks because he's not part of the problem. He shouldn't have to fail to warrant attention, ya know?

Did that make sense? I tried to condense my original 700 word essay :P

As for the state of the education system? I am appalled. Absolutely appalled. Our country should be better than this.

Shiona said...

I am saddened at the state of education. You are absolutely right that the last month is basically preparing and taking the test. I already know that tests are not a good indicator of learning.

FreedomFirst said...

Amen to that. And isn't it ironic how they want you involved whenever it benefits them, but when you begin to question them, suddenly you have no business being involved? It's all about convenience with government schools these days. Screw the kids.

I have to send Andy back to his preschool this fall. I don't want him going into this rotten public school system having missed a year at a decent school.

Dingo said...

Standardized testing is useless. I want to know how my students think, not if they can pick the best answer out of five. What happens is that we end up students who lack critical reading and thinking skills and have to be spoon fed how to do things.

Clever Elsie said...

I've heard that we all lose about 80% of what we learn in grades 1-12. I don't know how accurate that is, but I could believe it. Nevertheless, most of us seem to manage well in our jobs and live productive lives.

This may sound cynical, but I think a lot of us don't have much practical use for what we learn in school. We talk about emulating the European educational model, but that model recognizes that many kids will never need collegiate skills and tracks them into other programs early on.

Personally, I would like to see more tracking in an educational system geared toward producing professionals who are prepared for their jobs rather than liberal arts majors who are $100k in debt for four years of learning about poets and philosophers. I love poetry and philosophy, but unless you want to become an academic, it's not going to get you a job. I think we could shorten the whole educational process (K-college) by several years if we encouraged more specialization early on. It would potentially cut expenses quite a bit AND turn out young people much more educated and experienced in their own fields.

Julie said...

Sigh. Testing. Its ruining education, isn't it? No longer can teachers and students encourage and enjoy creativity and imagination--horors! that's not worth enough points.

It appalls me that no one wants to fight NCLB.