Ask the Teacher

There is so much debate in the news about testing in schools – the “need” for testing, the perspective that there is too much testing, and that all teachers can do now is to “teach to the test.” What, exactly, does all of this testing mean to my fourth grader?

Our educational world is driven more and more by data, heightening the need for testing. A generation ago, testing-derived data was used to determine if a student was learning what was expected. Now, the data provides numbers that not only offer an indicator of a student’s learning, but also of a school corporation’s effectiveness and of an individual teacher’s ability. To your child that means that as long as there is a perception that this data is meaningful in determining those things, the testing will continue.

When the testing becomes an objective in and of itself, and interrupts the flow of classroom instruction and content, we have to reconsider its role and the time being dedicated to it. It is prudent that all parents are keenly aware of the educational costs of testing, that is, how much time is spent discussing testing strategies, learning the vocabulary associated with testing and practicing various testing formats – as well as the actual testing itself. Seek to understand if this comes in the context of mastery of curricular content or as a skill set independent of new content.

If the testing being done is based on a state’s standards, by definition teachers are always “teaching to the test.” However, we must recognize that the standardized test is only one indicator of mastery. Other valid assessments – assignments, essays, projects and classroom tests – completed over time and in a variety of formats are much better indicators of student mastery of content.

When my son’s teacher explained her policy about allowing kids to re-do any assignment that they wanted to for full credit, I thought it seemed like a good way to instill the value of a strong work ethic. Now, I think my son opts to hurry through his work because he knows he does not have to give it his best at the start. What do I do if I disagree with the teacher’s classroom policy?

Face-to-face communication is always the best way to share concerns about classroom policies and teacher strategies. Share honestly with your son’s teacher how you felt about her announcement of the policy and your very specific observations since then.

The teacher will likely suggest that as your son matures he will prefer to do the work correctly the first time rather than spend additional time completing the work again. Each of you might consider tracking your son’s assignments, noting when the work meets expectations the first time and when it must be redone. If his work requires re-doing regularly, show your son your “records” and explain that the primary goal is for him to do his best the first time he does an assignment.

Together define a specific goal such as “No more than two assignments per week will need to be redone.” Help your son track his efforts so that he can see the progress he makes. Seeing progress provides great incentive toward improvement. This nudge may help reap the benefits the teacher hoped for with her policy initially.

My first grade daughter is great at the math “challenge” work that her teacher offers when the regular work has been completed. I am grateful that she provides it, but it makes me wonder if she is being challenged consistently. Should I wait for the teacher to initiate a conversation about this?

Teachers have the tough task of determining how much challenge is enough and how much is too much. The younger the student, the tougher this task is. Certainly the teacher wants to feed your daughter’s enthusiasm for math without causing stress for her. The teacher is very conscious of the building blocks provided by the curriculum and necessarily cautious about making sure the foundation for her future math skills is sound.

Let the teacher know how much you appreciate the challenge opportunities she is providing for your daughter. Ask her if this is something that all of her students are doing, or if there are just a few completing the challenge work. If it is something that many of the students are doing, the teacher is working to help all of the students achieve more, and is probably not an indicator of a higher aptitude for mathematics in your daughter. If there are only a few needing this work, ask her if there are indications that your daughter is ready for a higher level of math and how to determine whether such a placement is in your daughter’s best interest.
The reasons for accelerating are obvious – rapid progress and student engagement among them. There are also reasons not to accelerate such as inconsistent indicators of ability, a high stress level in an individual student or a student’s need for a confidence boost. Discussing the situation with your daughter’s teacher can give you a better sense of how to proceed in this situation.

Ask the Teacher is written by Deb Krupowicz, a mother of four and current teacher. Deb holds a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and has over twenty years of experience teaching preschool, elementary and middle school students. Please send your questions to her at [email protected]

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