|Skyrim Screen Shot from here.|
During breakfast my son explains how he and a few others are designing a 3D-RPG set in ancient times. The "few others" hail from England and they are actively recruiting other online friends from Japan and Australia and inviting them to bring on their mad programming and design skills. Although they are still discussing roles, they have identified game engine designer, pixel artist, 3D-modeler, environment builder, base programmer, and first person character model designer as essential roles that they believe they can fulfill. My son's 13 and the boys he's designing with are between the ages of 12 and 15. None have taken official programming classes. They learn from each other, others on line, reference materials, trial and error. Their goal is to design and produce a kick ass game that has better graphics than Skyrim. I'm rooting for them.
As a mom, I recognize that the distance between my son's on-line learning life and school is vast and seems to be growing more so each week. At home he is imagining himself as a programmer and has been learning C++ quite ardently for the last year. C++ is a programming language and functions as a composing tool. At school the composition models he is given and expected to follow are of the five-paragraph kind that are designed to replicate state testing. The reading he does at school is limited to text book passages, test prepping, and YA fiction and children's literature, such as The Outsiders, The Giver, or Freak the Mighty. Alongside the literature are multiple choice NJ-ASK-like tests and short answer responses. At school, social media is banned and collaboration is limited to peer response to state testing prompt writing.
|Screen Shot from Skyrim.|
The quality of learning at public school is directly connected to the state mandated testing emphasis that has grown out of control since NCLB (No Child Left Behind) and has intensified even more so since RTTT (Race to the Top). If we want to know why public school learning is less than we want and need, we need only look at those beyond the public school door who have removed the teacher from the classroom and replaced him or her with test prepping. Teachers are kept from teaching in some schools and instead are made to "do test prep." Electives are replaced with test prepping courses. Curriculum is narrowed. The number of minutes dedicated to science, social studies, art, music, and language has been lessened. All of these actions reduce learning, interest, passion, and commitment.
It's discouraging as a mom to see how narrow the range of learning is at school and how test-centric it has become. For example, my son, like all students at his middle school, had to take "Creative Math" as an elective, so that students had even more time to learn 'school math.' What teachers and children at my son's school love and feel passionate about seem to be less an impetus for curriculum design than school reading, writing and math that are privileged on foolish and foolishly made state tests.
The one-to-one correlation between state testing and school curriculum is a mistake and is killing learning.
My husband is a public school educator and I was one for more than 20 years, so it was challenging in many ways to say no to state testing mandates this year. We did so realizing there could be professional ramifications to our actions. Nonetheless, we sent a letter to the superintendent of schools and the Board of Education where we live requesting that our son be excused from the NJ ASK (New Jersey's state assessment for reading, writing, math and science). Here's a portion of the letter:
We are writing to request that our child, XXXXXXX, who is currently a seventh
grader at XXXXX Middle School, be excused from all state testing (NJ ASK). We
have given this great thought and have concluded that the current diet of state
testing in New Jersey is potentially harmful to our son and does not yield important
information about our child. Since 2008 when XXXXXXXX was in third grade he has sat
for the week long assessment. Four years of testing have not provided us with any
reliable or important information about our son’s intellectual capacity. Rather, we
see that our tax dollars have simply been used by state officials to enrich companies
who profit by creating or scoring these measures.
We live in complex times and the archaic method of paper and pencil tests to
measure school math and reading/writing information need to be retired. These
tasks do not reflect the learning we seek for our child, nor do they represent the
complexity of thinking he needs in order to be both joyful and productive in his life.
Further the narrowness of the measures is also highly problematic.
As the state test is a privileged event in New Jersey, we are concerned that our son
is learning that the test content represents the totality of what is important to learn.
If this event occurred once in his life we would be less concerned. However, the
testing culture that permeates schools as a result of NCLB (2002) and the continued
emphasis by President Obama’s education department is informing what our
child thinks is important to know. We do not consider school-based mathematics,
reading and writing tasks as represented on state assessments as being important
and certainly disagree that these slices of contrived disciplinary knowledge are
representative of what a healthy child might come to understand. Simply put, we
want far more for our child and know that these tests stand in the way to better and
more complex understandings of what it means to know, create, and collaborate in
We do not want to resort to removing our child from the school for the two weeks
of testing. Our concern is not with the public school or the board of education, but rather with the federal and state imposition of mandatory testing. We seek to be
honest and deliberate in our request for our son to be able to opt out of NJ-ASK
testing. Again, we request this primarily as we see this testing regime to be harmful
A week later we received an email from the superintendent who we like and respect that indicated that our request would not be honored as testing is written into state code and must be obeyed (at least by school officials). I then forwarded to him a letter in which another family from a public school district in NJ with a seventh grader had been excused from the testing. This seemed to give some pause as the return email from the superintendent indicated that my son would need to be out the following week of testing as it is make up testing and he also gave me the name and number of the state official in NJ. I did phone the NJDOE representative who to date has never returned the call.
The absence of a shiny letter giving us permission, gave us pause and we are better for it. No authority was going to directly support our parental decision to remove our son from state testing. We simply needed to take action. And so we did. During the testing week, our son attended school after the morning test was concluded and arrived late during the make up week. We hope our actions are replicated and that a collective of parents helps to re-balance public school curricula so that teachers' and children's lives and interests may once again matter.
|Circa, 1967 (M.A. Reilly)|
I ask you what is writing a five paragraph essay on a secret you've never told anyone getting a child 'ready' to do?
I want to believe that love is greater than corporate greed; that it is greater than re-election hopes--regardless of what cloth these ideologies get wrapped in. Beneath such dressing is a stink we cannot deny--one that is killing our children's dreams, motivating fine teachers to leave education, and oddly creating less and less skillful and confident learners.
When boys and girls dream...we ought to pay attention. As parents we need to stand up for our children and say NO to federal and state testing impositions.