‘Tis the season for parent-teacher conferences. I always looked forward to meeting parents that I only had communicated with over the phone or through email, to sharing students’ progress, and to determining ways in which to support students at school and at home. But, I always dreaded the part where I had to share information about students’ standardized test scores, diagnostic test scores, and predicted test scores.
When Pennsylvania decided to include the Keystone Exams as part of the state’s graduation requirements, I told parents that I would do everything I could to help their students meet benchmarks, make progress, and “beat the test.” I never gave up on any of my kids, but I knew that some of them just wouldn’t make it, regardless of the extra time we spent working before and after school, the time they spent in tutoring sessions with other teachers, and the time they spent on extra practice activities at home. These were kids who hadn’t “grown up” with the Common Core State Standards; they had been in classes covering the CCSS for only one or two years, but the state decided they had to pass the Keystone Exams in order to graduate. It was unfair, and I knew that.
And so, I had to look parents in the eye and tell them that even though I saw their students working unbelievably hard in my class and making growth in their reading and writing skills, they were not on track to score in the proficient range on the tests. Parents worried. Sometimes, students cried. And every conference night, I went home feeling happy about seeing so many parents but incredibly defeated because of the news I had just shared with them. I felt even more disgusted by the fact that the tests and the scores became the focal point of the conferences, when I knew that they should not have been.
Now, there is news about students opting out in record numbers in Colorado and Florida. There also is news about PA superintendents, school boards, and legislators who want to cut the cord between the tests and graduation status. Finally, people other than teachers are beginning to realize that one test should not determine a student’s future, especially when that test is grounded in standards that are under such scrutiny.
If I were still in the classroom, my parent-teacher conferences this year would be so much simpler. I’d share information on how to opt out. I’d tell parents about students’ rights and their own rights. I’d tell them that the scores really don’t mean much of anything for their students’ actual life goals or chances of getting into college or a branch of the armed services. I’d tell them the TRUTH about the standardized tests.
Wouldn’t it be something if Pennsylvania would make the news, like Colorado and Florida, for the numbers of students opting out? Wouldn’t it send quite a message if not one of the state’s districts met the participation rate for taking the tests?
But, it’s going to take effort and courage on the part of the teachers to communicate with parents. Parents may not have access to the information they need to opt out their children. They also may be getting the wrong message from administration or central offices when they ask about opting out. Parent-teacher conferences are the prime time for teachers to share information with parents. Who better to have the students’ best interests at heart?
Image via Flickr by Innovation School