Friday, May 24, 2013

Standard Kids

Okay, so now that school is finishing up for everyone, I think we can all take a huge sigh of relief and be glad certain aspects are behind us for a while, especially all the tests. I have certainly taken, given, and analyzed my fair share of tests, and it wasn’t until this spring that I found myself truly anxious about them. For one thing, I’ve always been a skeptic when it comes to standardized tests. I’ve seen many bright students of all ages do poorly for various reasons, and knew beyond all doubt that the test didn’t reflect the student’s level of understanding, or their ability to be successful in the next level of study. I can hear several of my former students and their parents shouting “Amen” right now.

Well, for all my thoughtful, mature perspective on the matter, I fell into the trap! Brody (my 4th grader) went back to his old school a few weeks ago for a few days to take the standardized test he’s taken every year since first grade, which has never made me anxious before because I always knew he was learning what he should and that he was a very intelligent, thoughtful child. However, I turned into helicopter mom. The poor child got in the car with me every afternoon only to face a barrage of questions. “What was on the test today? Did you know the answers? Were there any fractions? Any decimals?” I was so terrified he was going to have to do decimals (because that was the last unit in his book and we hadn’t gotten to it yet), that I actually sat him down the Monday morning before he left and gave him a short lesson on how to add and subtract decimals and how to identify their place value.

So why did the test freak me out this year? Because, I realized it wasn’t testing him, it was really testing ME! I kept wondering all year if we were studying the right things, if I was testing him enough, and what would I do if he went in and completely bombed the standardized test he had always done so well on? Well, we got the results back, and I saw that he was fine…well, mostly. His grammar score did go down, and I should take responsibility for that because we didn’t work too heavily on that this year. But I realized something MUCH MORE IMPORTANT.

See, here’s the thing, I’ve always loved being a part of the educational system, and I have a passion for teaching kids math. I’ve also been very alarmed at the direction our schools are taking in their choices for curriculum and teaching methods. Now, I’m not getting on my soapbox here, because my point isn’t really about all the political nonsense going on in our country or our educational system. We’ll deal with that later.

My point is that no one knows my child like I do, and I am capable and responsible for measuring him according to God’s standards, not the world’s.

The reality check came for me in two parts. I was reading a story out of Texas where many people are challenging the standards that have been adopted in the past couple of years. This is going on in many states as people are starting to realize all the dangers in the Common Core Standards. What I found completely baffling was a quote by a mother who wanted to keep the standards, because if they got rid of the standards, how would she know whether her child was learning what he should and where he stood in relationship to other kids his age.

I just kept thinking, why are we so willing to accept the measurement of our children given to us by others? Why do we see ourselves as unqualified to assess whether or not they are growing and learning as they should? We’re their parents!  Not only are we capable of evaluating our children, it is our responsibility, and we have no business passing it off to someone else. Now, I don’t mean everybody has to abandon the educational system and homeschool their kids. But I do think we should find a way to leave behind all the craziness of the Standardized Testing World. It’s like an alien planet that has kidnapped all the kids and teachers then sucked out their joy of learning and ability to be creative or even curious. The whole school year has become this monotonous march to the dreaded EOCT (or whatever test your kids are taking).  No wonder kids hate school.

The final part of my reality check came just two nights ago. Lately, Fox has been going through a stage where he doesn’t want to sleep by himself. Most nights, Brody either says no to letting Fox sleep with him, or begrudgingly agrees if I bribe him. Well, that night I had put them to bed separately, but thirty minutes later I turned off the tv and heard their little voices talking. I started to go up and fuss at them, but then I stopped on the stairs and listened. Brody was in Fox’s room reading to him from the Bible that used to be his, but is now Fox’s Bible.

My heart just melted listening to Brody’s sweet voice answering questions about God from Fox. And it hit me that it really doesn’t matter if he makes great scores on some stupid standardized test created by some strange person in the distant land of the Kings of Education that neither knows him nor values him. What truly matters is that I help him learn to measure himself against the standards set by God, who does know him and has loved him since before the foundation of the world.

I am not out to raise a kid that meets the standards of this world, and I am so extremely blessed that I got to spend all the days of the school year watching him learn and grow, both in his intelligence and his spiritual maturity.  I pray that more and more parents will realize that they can let go of their anxious fears for their children, and begin to value their own ability to assess what’s truly important.
Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a day when his children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. Our kids spend so much of their time being measured. And even though King’s statement was about skin color, I think the general message can apply to just about any kind of measurement we give power to.  Let’s stop giving so much power to the world’s standards.

And that, folks, is your WWW for the day!

P.S. When I was talking to my husband the other day about the blog, he asked me, "So where does all this wisdom come from?" I realized he probably wasn't the only one who didn't understand where the name of this blog comes from. It's actually from a joke I started with my middle school math students many years ago. When I lectured them about life, I would always end it with, "And that's your Westall's Words of Wisdom for the day." It was then shortened to WWW. I began joking around with them that I should start a blog, and its address would be The idea was to post all my lectures so they would always have them if they needed a refresher. Anyway, so when I finally got around to starting the blog, the name seemed fitting. So, hopefully you understand it's not coming from a place of vanity, but from an affectionate connection with my former students.