It’s PARCC day at school, and we’re not sweating the test

PARCC testing begins tomorrow for my two oldest boys. They talk of it matter of factly, with the 5th grader claiming he likes testing days. I used to be the same way, enjoying a change of pace from the usual school day. And 3rd grader boasts that he can now type faster than at least one other kid in his class. So there.

To quote my husband’s pronouncement in our kitchen last night, “We are ready to bring the noise on PARCC!” They give him a smirk and an eye roll and it’s back to Celtics playoffs and a repeating loop of “Where’s my glove?”

After my 10 years working in schools and my 11 years as a mom, I am certain of one thing: all parents appreciate knowing how their kids are doing. From that joyous moment when our first newborn’s cries pierce the air, we become totally focused on the the well being of that baby and life quickly becomes a beautiful and chaotic collection of moments, memories, and measures. Sure, we vary in our capacities to handle it all (and pay for it all), but I have yet to meet a parent who did not want the best for their child.

There is no scarcity of opinion out there when it comes to measuring our kids. Whether it be weighing them in school (to screen for obesity and diabetes concerns), timing their mile run (to test their speed and endurance), or taking an annual math exam (to assess their math skills), controversy is never too far away.

I have to wonder if we have perhaps entered a time where the empirical has almost totally been replaced by the emotional and where feelings or anecdotes have become the modern version of an objective measure. Parents want to know if their kids are happy and their self esteem is intact. As parents we naturally want to nurture the “whole child,” and we have an innate tendency to feel uncomfortable and even combative when someone tries to label our child in any way.

Obese. Slow. Average.

There is, however, a bit of cognitive dissonance around some of this. Parents talk freely about their children’s height and weight percentiles and are very quick to label their own children early on as gifted or advanced.

If only we had a quarter for every time someone has told us, unsolicited, that their 2 year old is “really advanced,” right?

I like knowing how my kids are doing and I appreciate all the information I can get. I would never define them by any one piece of information but it does help me as their mother make decisions about what they need (and don’t need), where I can provide support, where we can stay the course and where perhaps we need to make a change.

I appreciate being able to look into their eyes and know something’s wrong. I like knowing if their height and weight are tracking within normal range. I appreciate when their blood work indicates that they are well or that they are ill. And I want to know if their learning is on track and if their knowledge and skills are at a level commensurate with what they’ll need moving forward and on par with kids their age in neighboring states.

It seems I’m like most parents in America. Education Post recently conducted a poll dedicated solely to parents’ views on education and like me, most parents support and appreciate testing because of the information it provides to us about our child. Some 65 percent of us want the information from the testing to be used to identify the students who need help and 54 percent of us want the information to help us, as parents, identify where our children may need extra help.

According to that same parent poll, we hold ourselves and our children most responsible for whether or not they are progressing in school and being armed with the necessary information sets us up to successfully fulfill that responsibility.

I don’t get too caught up in which test they take. Their scores might be lower than we are used to, but I’m excited to have results based on what most agree is more challenging work. We as parents will have a much more accurate sense of our children’s progress as well as their areas of strength and weakness in math and English.

Their teachers will be better able to support them in school, and we will be working from a position of knowledge when we support them at home. Our schools will have a clear view of achievement gaps between different groups of children, and will be able to adjust accordingly to ensure that every child is getting what they need.

This is about more than just our own kid.

I have never liked the easy A as much as the hard earned B. I definitely welcome the scores on annual assessments being lower if it means our kids are doing better and harder work.  

And on that note, I’m off to figure out how to keep my 9 year old from scratching off his poison-ivy-covered leg during his PARCC test tomorrow.

See, life really is full of tests.

What do you think?
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Erika Sanzi

Erika Sanzi

Erika Sanzi spent a decade as a teacher and school dean before becoming a full-time education advocate. Her love for writing coupled with her willingness to take on people in power has led her to spend much of her time responding to status-quo protectors inclined to put adult interests ahead of kids. She is particularly focused on inequities in the system, persistent but surmountable achievement gaps, and what she sees as a culture of low expectations that disproportionately impacts low-income students of color. She is the mom of three young sons and you can often find her on the sidelines of their countless sports practices and games. She is committed to the belief that zip code isn’t destiny, that parents deserve choices when it comes to educating their children, and that too many “good” schools are falling down on the job in too many ways. Born and raised in Massachusetts, she now calls Rhode Island home with her boys, her husband, and her big fluffy dog, Griffey. She writes about her corner of New England at Good School Hunting.

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