Mom of two Krista Weaver can tell when standardized testing is set to ramp up at her daughters’ schools. Zoe Grace, 14, has acne breakouts brought on by anxiety. That’s why Weaver was particularly vexed when a new exam was recently added: Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, will be required for students as early as kindergarten in about a dozen states.
“Really? How about we not launch into college testing for 8-year-olds?” says Weaver, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Homewood. “How about we first build a solid foundation instead of going test crazy?”
Parents and teachers across the country are asking the same question. In fact, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, concedes that the battery of exams children face today—largely a result of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002—threatens to suck the life out of learning. Some kids now take an estimated 113 standardized tests between the pre-K level and twelfth grade, according to data collected from the Council of the Great City Schools. Parents and districts are fighting back— organizing efforts to repeal or boycott the rising assessment tide. For now, you can’t make state assessments go away. But these tips will help you stay informed so you can best speak up for your youngster.
Different school districts have different standards and exam schedules—even within the same state. For example, urban neighborhoods with a lot of underperforming schools sometimes administer far more tests than more affluent ones. Determine what your child is up against. Your local school superintendent should make such information available. You can also visit pta.org for details. “Our guides will help support families so parents can get more involved,” says Otha Thornton, president of the organization.
Chart the course.
Find out, as early as possible, when testing is scheduled in your little one’s school. Then plan around those periods—limiting or cutting out her after-school activities and appointments so she won’t feel undue pressure. Many schools begin statewide standardized assessments between March and May.
Manage your anxiety first.
It’s scary to think that your youngster’s future could hinge on a single day of testing. What if he simply doesn’t test well, or she woke up feeling sick? Fairly or unfairly, many of these exams are designed to measure the competency of teachers and curricula—not students. Read up on the trend. The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing—but You Don’t Have to Be (PublicAffairs) by Anya Kamenetz helps to demystify the process.
Know your child.
Does testing upset him? Talk about it. Try to allay his fears. Well before exam day, help your little one prepare by working with her teacher to get supplemental practice guides. Most important, be sure to monitor your own attitude so she doesn’t internalize additional angst or frustration.
Tap your inner activist.
Do your research to learn your options. If you think the number of standardized exams is excessive and could therefore be harmful to your child, you have the right to ask your district to provide evidence that certain tests are worth- while. Exam results from previous years are also open to public inquiry.
Consider saying no.
There’s a growing backlash across the country against standardized testing. “In most states parents aren’t mandated by law to have their children tested,” says Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest. Last year thousands of students skipped out on exams. Students opting out of tests can face disciplinary action, including suspension and denial of grade promotion. Check your state’s policy on consequences for declining tests. You can learn more from groups fighting high- stakes assessments, including fairtest.org, unitedoptout.com and the Grassroots Education Movement (gemnyc.org).
Ylonda Gault Caviness is the author of the upcoming book Child, Please: How Mama’s Old-School Lessons Helped Me Check Myself Before I Wrecked Myself (Tarcher).
This article was originally published in the April 2015 issue of ESSENCE Magazine.