Why My Kids Love Standardized Test Weeks

Unless you live under a rock without access to the internet (especially Facebook), you are aware of the controversy surrounding Common Core and the wide-reaching “opt-out” movement that is sweeping the nation.  Parents are angry, teachers are frustrated and students are stressed.  But not my kids.  They seem unfazed … And it’s not because they are overly confident, smug, smarty-pants geniuses (they’re not).

For those without kids, a brief explanation … April is test month: a two-week period during which elementary, middle and high schools around the country administer daily 2-hour-long standardized exams to measure student proficiency in the nationally recognized Common Core curriculum for math, language arts and science.  Here in Pennsylvania, these tests are called PSSAs for grades 3-8 and Keystones for grades 9-12 (PSSA is an acronym for Pennsylvania System of School Assessment).  Other states call the tests by different names, but the purpose is the same.

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Do they still use scan-trons or am I dating myself?

I could join the movement and continue on here about how corporate executives shouldn’t be creating school curriculum without educator input, or how “teaching for the test” is suffocating our children’s love of learning, or how instructing kids to use a 5-step process when multiplying two numbers together instead of using old-school multiplication table memorization seems ridiculous to me, but I won’t.  I could have “opted-out” of testing for my kids based on religious reasons or some other viable excuse, but I didn’t.  I didn’t for a variety of reasons, one of which is that these tests don’t count … At least not in terms of their classroom grades.  [Test results aren’t even available until July — Yep, a full month or more after school has ended for the year!]  I told my boys this, so they are not stressed or worried.  They aren’t the least bit concerned, actually.  In fact, they look forward to test weeks.  Why?  For five (5) simple reasons:

  1. No homework!  Teachers are not allowed to give out-of-class assignments until the test period is over.
  2. Extra recess!  Bonus play/social time is offered as a way to relieve test stress and relax.
  3. Sucking candy!  Teachers allow students to have chewing gum or sucking candy during the exams as a way to ease stress and increase focus.
  4. Movies!  With limited classroom time to learn new material, many teachers show movies or offer independent reading time to fill the afternoon hours.
  5. Did I already say no work and more recess?

So according to the Tarr boys, two weeks of no studying, no homework, extra recess, movies and sucking candy in exchange for a few hours of tedious testing that won’t affect their grades is a decent compromise.  Oh, to see the world through the eyes of an 8- and 11-year old!  If only it was that simple.

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No wonder I can’t do 3rd grade math!

– LJDT

Staycation + Re-Lent = Spring No Break

Last week was Spring Break for my kids.  It came on the heels of three half-days, so by the time Monday rolled around, I had already had my fill of “kid time.”  It was also the first week of our “Re-Lent,” or “Lent, Part II” … What was I thinking?

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First, let me explain what “Re-Lent” is since I made it up.  Every year, like most practicing Catholics, the boys and I give up something for Lent.  Exactly what the kids sacrifice for 40+ days is their choice, but it has to be something that they will actually miss.  Like their iPads, phone or sweets.  Not homework, chores or vegetables as they offer up each year.  I usually give up cursing and chocolate … I’m not very successful, truthfully.  Anyway, this year we forgot to give up stuff for Lent.  Feeling like a bad Catholic, I decided to redeem myself and save the boys’ souls by declaring March 30th the beginning of “Re-Lent” in the Tarr household.  Like my “Resolution Do-Over” of 2014 (click here to read that post), we’d simply start over.  The plan was this:  Start Lent on March 30th and add twenty extra days to the end as a penalty.  “Re-Lent” (or “Lent, Part II) would be a 63-day sacrifice period, lasting until Memorial Day.  The kids were going to hate me, but my stomach and conscience were going to love me.

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As for Spring Break, we decided not to travel this year.  Last year’s road trip to South Carolina was (mostly) fun, (click here to read last year’s four-part blog series about our spring break escapades), but a vacation getaway wasn’t in the cards this time.  “Staycation” here we come!  Or is it, here we stay?  Anyway, I had a few fun activities planned for the boys, mixed in with a few not-so-fun things, like dental cleanings and Easter shopping, to make the week stress-free and enjoyable.  We started out strong, but quickly lost steam as the week dwindled and the togetherness grew.  It wasn’t the worst week, but it wasn’t the best either.  Here’s what I learned from Spring Break, 2015:

  • A break from our routine is good, but nine days is too much for us
  • Observing Lent (or, in our case, “Re-Lent”) sucks when the kids are out of school
  • Staycation ≠ Vacation.  Can you say, Spring No Break?!
  • Trying to write while the kids are home is nearly impossible, thus my blog silence last week
  • I NEED my morning gym time to stay sane
  • My kids love each other … until they can’t stand each other
  • Adding friends to the mix makes everything more fun
  • Sometimes the best days are the unplanned days
  • The week would have been worse if my boys were still toddlers
  • I love my kids, but I love them more when I get a regular break from them
  • Next year, we are going away!

Only 44 more days of “Re-Lent” and just 65 days until school’s out for summer break … Will we make it?

– LJDT

Spring P/T Conferences are for Suckers

It’s finally spring!  Time for longer days, warmer weather and parent/teacher conferences.

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In our school district, spring parent/teacher conferences only happen at the elementary school level.  With one in middle school now, I almost got to skip this annual event.  Almost.  My third grader insisted that I attend his, despite it being optional.  Optional, but encouraged, as proven by the school emails and not-so-subtle reminders from my son, who was instructed by his teacher to remind me more than once.

For those who don’t know, the spring conference is a face-to-face progress report of sorts.  The teacher informs you of your child’s most recent learning assessment scores and shows you some of your child’s assignments (many of which you’ve already seen because they needed parental assistance at home — read my post about that here).  Each parent is given a 15-minute slot in the teacher’s schedule.  Quick and easy, in and out, but fingers crossed you don’t follow someone who’s (a) a windbag, (b) tardy, or (c) the parent of a struggling student (since those discussions aptly require more than 15 minutes).

I had resolved to skip this unnecessary meeting.  After all, I review my son’s homework nightly and ask him questions daily so I feel that I am already aware of his progress.  Nonetheless, he insisted.  Maybe there was something I didn’t know that his teacher was going to tell me, I thought.  So like a good parent, I booked my 15-minute meeting and marked my calendar accordingly.

Here’s how it went down when the conference day arrived:

  • I didn’t have time to shower after the gym (It was either shower or eat lunch … I chose lunch), so I did a quick “wash down,” swiped on some deodorant, added a touch of lip gloss and ran out the door
  • It took 8 minutes for me to drive to school
  • It took another 2 minutes to park my car and walk to the classroom
  • I listened to my son’s teacher for exactly 15 minutes while sitting in a very low, uncomfortably small chair (FYI, he’s doing great, as I already knew)
  • It took 2 minutes to walk back to my car
  • It took 8 more minutes to drive home

All in, I spent more time traveling to and from the meeting than I did attending it, and the teacher didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know … Ugh, what a waste!  If I had a child who was struggling in school, then the spring parent/teacher conference would be more useful and I’d eagerly attend.  But I don’t have a struggling student, thankfully.  And if I did, I sincerely hope that the teacher wouldn’t wait until late March/early April to tell me about it.

So while I didn’t learn anything new about my third grader’s education, I did learn something … Spring parent/teacher conferences are for suckers.  Thank goodness I didn’t shower for it.

– LJDT