Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – High Stakes Testing Isn’t Beneficial

I recently started a group on facebook (please join) where I heard from April Peacock, a mother of a third grader from Pennsylvania. She was looking for advice on how to respond to her son’s teacher, who had sent home a high stakes testing practice booklet, with instructions to the parents on how to review with their children.

High Stakes Testing Isn’t Beneficial
by April Peacock

Yesterday, I received a packet from my third grade son. The front letter says the following:

Dear Parent Helpers,
Attached is this week’s PSSA Practice Packet to review with your child. As always your help and assistance in your child’s education is so important. This is one way you can help show them what they are doing in school is important.

Remember to review the packet with your child. Make sure they read the story and questions carefully before trying to figure out the answers. A little each night works well. The answer key is included for your reference. Research has shown (Ashbaugh, 2009) that when parents practice with their children in high stakes testing, students do much better.

Please fill out and return the paper below to your child’s teacher on 2/1. Do not return the packet.
Third Grade Teachers

Week # 1
Student’s Name
Time spent on this packet with student _______________ mins per day.
Were you able to finish the packet? Y N
Please list anything that your child did not understand, so that we can review it in the classroom.

Here is my dilemma: I’m glad that they make the material available to us, but I don’t feel that “high stakes testing” is beneficial and I resent that I am required to fill out a form stating exacting how long I practiced with my child. I dislike them telling me how to spend my time.

Does anyone have an good responses to this? I would like to send in a short letter with references, etc., but I don’t want to sound upset. Basically, I want my letter to be just as PC as theirs. My Case Against Homework book is packed away because we just moved.

24 thoughts on “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – High Stakes Testing Isn’t Beneficial

  1. I have a response, alright, but I don’t know how to “not sound upset”. And what’s wrong with sounding upset, by the way?

    I like the opening, “Dear Parent Helpers”. In other words, parent as volunteer. Teachers, we parents have our own agenda and our own plans for our family time. It’s not your place to tell us how to spend our time with our children.

    I dis­like them telling me how to spend my time.

    Welcome to my world.

    As if it’s not enough that they’ve turned school into a test-prep factory, they want to turn your home into a test-prep factory too. They’re lengthening the school day on the cheap, and employing the cheapest teachers in the world — parents (read: “mothers”) whose time is assumed to be of no value and always available for the school’s needs.

    Deference is not my long suit, so I can’t help you there. But I can offer support in your understanding that this is an outrage that has nothing to do with real education. If I got this letter, I would let the teacher know in no uncertain terms that I refuse to comply. I send my kids to school for education in actual subjects, not practice in how to get a good score on the PSSA.

    Good luck! Please let us know how it turns out.


  2. I’ve got to run, but a quick thought — in some sense, we’re getting the education we care about. For instance, in the wealthy district I live in, successful students graduate from high school stressed out and on the verge of a breakdown, but they sure know how to take a test. Do they have actual deep knowledge of any particular subject? That’s doubtful, but it’s not really the school’s purpose. The purpose is to prepare a good-looking college application, and in that they are quite successful.

    As the writer Florence King remarked, “Americans love education but hate learning.”


  3. I think you nailed some key issues here, FedUpMom.

    In Mass. we have the MCAS, and testing season is upon us. My 9 year-old told me something interesting yesterday after school: Her teacher asked the class on Monday, “How many of you are afraid of MCAS?”

    Out of 24 third-graders, my daughter was the only one who didn’t raise her hand.


  4. I continue to be galled ( I wonder if I’ll ever get over it) by teachers and the school administration who think parents are at their disposal. It’s so convenient to label parents as “unsupportive” if they don’t comply too. If I saw “High Stakes” on any piece of information related to my child’s education coming from the school, I’d freak out. What is this…? A casino?

    I don’t think you can be diplomatic about this, it’s too outrageous. PC……BS.

    I’d return the little slip of paper with:

    Week # 1
    Student’s Name: Susie
    Time spent on this packet with stu­dent _______0________ mins per day.
    Were you able to fin­ish the packet? N
    Please list any­thing that your child did not under­stand, so that we can review it in the classroom. No.

    They want data…give them data. If every parent in the classroom did the same, you’d be getting somewhere.


  5. It is weird they actually used the term “high stakes” with parents. Our 7th grader came home with an ISAT practice packet for math this weekend, and ironically that constituted a bit of a break for him, as his normal math HW is harder than the test practice.

    I’d look at it like this: How does your son feel about the practice packet? How does he feel about the testing? Unless you’ve secured a waiver for him, he’ll be taking those tests whether you like it or not, and it is nice for him to feel comfortable and confident. If he feels that way without any practice, I’d skip it & write that specifically in your note back to the teachers. If he doesn’t feel comfortable, 5-10 mins. a night of practice wouldn’t be a bad thing. Some kids are better test takers than others, and some actually can benefit from practice. One of my guys goes too fast and is impulsive on unit tests at school–finishes first in the class but comes home w/points off on easy stuff he would have caught had he taken an extra moment. Is that the end of the world? Nah. Might it help him to practice and see that he’s missing easy stuff while rushing? Sure.

    I don’t think this is that huge a deal, as long as the practice isn’t too time consuming, but certainly it’s up to you and your son how to handle this. I’d let your son be the guide. In gr. 3 he’s probably old enough to tell you how he feels.


  6. ps April, I’m curious as to where the school found that “research” showing kid score better when their parents help them practice. Is there really such a study, or is this based on anecdotal evidence from a few high scorers at the school? I’m a bit of a research junkie so am wondering about this.


  7. Mary Sullivan wrote: “some actu­ally can ben­e­fit from prac­tice.”

    This is where we need to step back and ask ourselves, what is the real purpose of the mandatory statewide tests?

    It’s my understanding that the tests are intended to be one-day, in-school snapshots of an aggregate group’s progress. These are not the SATs, where the playing field is so uneven because of competitiveness and test prep. Moreover, way too much time is already wasted in schools teaching students how to fill in the bubbles and make the “right” choice among four possible answers.

    When the vast majority of a class of third graders admits fear of a statewide test, it’s clear we have lost our way. We need to find out where that pressure is coming from (parents? teachers? other students? all of the above?) and stop it.


  8. Some schools practice the bubble filling etc. quite a bit, while others do none. Even within our district it’s teacher by teacher–some seem to spend more time on practice while others spend little or none. My older son had a teacher in gr. 3 who told me she tested poorly as a kid, so she resented the tests and refused to have the kids practice. I don’t think it mattered one way or another to the students.

    Overall I’d say the approach to state testing is very low-key in our district, but that may be because it’s an affluent area where kids tend to test well without practice. Their normal curriculum is harder than the state tests. This may not be the case in economically struggling areas. I’m not sure it’s fair to say that “way too much time is already wasted” across the board on test prep nationwide.

    IMO what way too much time is spent on in a day by day, year-round basis at most public schools is rote memorization and lecture-format classes that don’t prepare kids for the future–whether they relate to state test material or not. And of course the pointless worksheets, pages of comprehension questions, and forms we have to sign to prove our kids read or studied or whatever. Unit exams are a much bigger pain for our family than the state tests.


    ps If 3rd grade is the first time kids are taking the state tests (as it is here), that could explain why they were nervous. If all but 1 raise their hands next year, having already done it once, I’d be more concerned.


  9. “Parent helpers” as opposed to just plain “parents?” What an insult. Three words into the letter and they’ve already got me peeved. And what happens if your third-grader doesn’t do well on the “high stakes testing?” They’ll test him a second and third time, right? I, too, would return the sheet marked as zero minutes spent with the packet.


  10. If society would stop measuring the quality of teachers on standardized testing and then measure based on long term growth and success – teachers could spend more time preparing and teaching the material. Don’t confuse compliance with consent – teachers are employees just like the rest – our jobs are on the line if we dissent with or without a contract and tenure.


  11. ***
    Dear Par­ent Helpers,

    One of the occupational hazards of teaching elementary school is that after a while you address everyone as if they were 6 years old. Can’t the teacher hear how patronizing that is?

    Please list any­thing that your child did not under­stand,

    In other words, do the teacher’s job for her.

    when par­ents prac­tice with their chil­dren in high stakes test­ing, stu­dents do much better.

    I don’t doubt this for a moment. But let’s step back and think about the larger picture.

    The fact that it’s possible to game the system shows that the system is fundamentally flawed. The standardized tests are supposed to measure how well the school is doing. If parents are drafted into preparing their kids for the test, the test will then measure how well the parents are doing at preparing their kids for the standardized test.

    It’s really a form of cheating. The standardized tests are used to evaluate the teacher and the school, but the teacher is asking the parents to prepare the kids. How is this different from one student asking another to take their Spanish test for them?

    It’s part of a pattern that we see all the time in “nominally high-performing districts” (Google it!). Schools outsource their job to the parents.

    So in a district with wealthy parents, the school depends on the parents to get the job done. In a district with poor parents, the school blames the parents for the school’s lousy performance.


  12. Does any­one have an good responses to this? I would like to send in a short let­ter with ref­er­ences, etc., but I don’t want to sound upset. Basi­cally, I want my let­ter to be just as PC as theirs.

    Dont waste your energy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    There is NO WAY to change this system but to send it down in flames. Tell your teacher you could give a rats ass about the testing and instruct your child to get every question wrong.


  13. FedUpDad, I am sure some will find you grating. Not me. You are refreshing. I love your acerbic wit and how you just cut to the chase, no monkey business. Short and not sweet. You tell it like it is! You rock.


  14. HomeworkBlues says:

    FedUp­Dad, I am sure some will find you grat­ing. Not me. You are refresh­ing. I love your acer­bic wit and how you just cut to the chase, no mon­key busi­ness. Short and not sweet. You tell it like it is! You rock.


    Standardized testing and the type of teaching that supports it is so bad and the current system is so truly entrenched that It might be eaiser to get rid of christianity.
    I live in Santa Clarita, California which has some the highest scores in the state and I do not subject my 9 year old daughter to this crap. I also buy a few of cases a year of Alfie Kohn’s THE SCHOOLS OUR CHILDREN DESERVE: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards” and hand them out to my colleagues, friends and even strangers who have recognized the need for something better. As a classroom teacher for over 15 years, the best advice I can give is: We better begin to listen to our children, when the say “school sucks” because it I’m sure it does.


  15. Yeah, Fed Up Dad and Teacher…you really do rock.

    Will we ever see the day when a teacher sits the parents down on Curriculum night and hands out copies of The Case Against Homework or one of Kohn’s books, gives intructions to read it and truly established a dialogue between him/her self and the parents. How long do we parents have to sit in the little chairs, listen to teacher jargon and pledge to “support” our children’s education by doing whatever the teacher says?
    Good for you Dad, for listening. All, and I mean all, my alarm bells go off when my daughter says she hates ANYTHING about her school. It’s a sign that something is very wrong and the more we ignore these clues from our honest kids, the greater the problem grows.


  16. FedUpDad writes: “Standardized testing and the type of teaching that supports it is so bad and the current system is so truly entrenched that It might be eaiser to get rid of christianity.”

    GREAT line! Thanks for the laugh. Feels like we’re fighting The Thousand Year War.


  17. Since my daughter was born I had always known I was not going to let her attend the local middle and high school. I was going to have to find a private non-religious progressive school. I thought our local elementary school couldn’t beat the spirit and passion out of her. Her Kindergarten teacher ran the class in a way that would make Alfie Kohn would be proud of. Then I found out she was retiring and that she told the administrators she was going to teach the class the way she wanted to that year. I was in heaven! Then came 1st grade, the typical bullcrap homework and logs, standardized test practice in a grade where they don’t even test, and then the shit hit the fan – my daughter has a sitting down and shutting up problem. We pulled her out in April of that year and have home schooled since. My wife who was a teacher before our daughter was born, has been a full time mother and teacher since. I have taken a leave of absence from teaching this year and probably next year too. I enjoying playing, reading, traveling, and learning with my daughter. She takes art, music and gym classes. She perforns with the local childrens theater productions and she produces science documentries she researches, writes and films with some of her friends. I have discovered some very progressive private schools not too far away and might be interested in enrolling her there, or not.


  18. FedUpDad — we had a similar trajectory. As my daughter worked her way through public elem. school, I was starting to think we should find an alternative by the time she was high school age, because of the insane pressure that’s put on the kids in our nominally high-performing district. To my surprise, she hit the wall in 5th grade, when she started coming home depressed every day. That was her last year in public school.

    If home schooling works for your family, that’s great. I looked into it and at least so far I’m keeping the kids in private schools. It’s a year-to-year decision, though.


  19. Dear Compensated Teacher,

    Please find attached the following BCBS mandatory medical files that I was unable to complete today during my normal office hours. As always your assistance in helping me to stay on top of my child’s standardized test scores, by helping to assure my job performance and job security, is one way you can help show them that what I do to assure their well being is important, too.

    Remember to have my child sit beside you, preferably in a 45 degree angle but no more than two inches from your chair. Research shows this most optimal position allows for maximum teacher child involvement and results in a higher percentage of children who understand medical/insurance files.

    Please fill out, chart, and return all 200 files with my child at the end of the school day as this assures you and I can keep our jobs and Junior can eat next week.

    Please be advised, in order to sustain the amount of homework Junior brings home, On Mondays I will be sending Junior to school with a pound of hamburger, tomato sauce, and seasonings for homemade spaghetti as well as yeast and other natural items for homemade bread. Please feel free to be creative! Research shows that teachers who prepare their students’ families dinners actually have a better relationship with parents which results in higher standardized test scores for children. (Do not worry about preparing dinners for Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays because my other children’s teachers are in charge of those meals. However, dessert can earn extra credit.)

    And finally, please be on the look out next week for a 3406 CAT ENGINE that will need to have its main engine components flushed and rebuilt. It’s pertinent that this be taken care of accurately and efficiently as its Junior’s way to school for the standardized test next week.

    Parent of Third Grader


  20. To PeggyinMA, the “pressure” is coming from Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. I haven’t met one teacher in my 20 years of teaching who thinks that high stakes tests are meaningful or useful. They are government mandated and that is why for 3 weeks every March, the curriculum is put aside to prepare for and take state tests.

    NCLB also requires special education students and English language learners to perform as well as regular education, native English speakers. Schools at which all sub groups of students do not meet “standards” (of NCLB), suffer consequences such as having certain types of funding taken away. Don’t look for it to get any better either. Obama’s “Race to the top” contains language that will tie teacher compensation to student performance on a “yet to be determined” measure. Illinois teachers are assuming this means state standardized test scores. This means that there will be even more teaching to the test, “practice” and preparation, and pressure to perform well on a once a year test.

    In Illinois, students with IEP’s can be excluded from having to take the ISATs if their teachers perform an alternative assessment which requires setting goals for each student and creating a portfolio of student work that documents individual progress. Basically, that is how teachers assess progress for EVERY child, by looking at their daily work, listening to their logic as they answer in class, performance on unit specific tests, etc. That, to me, is a meaningful representation of the learning that occurs throughout a year and from year to year.

    I just attended a meeting this morning for my daughter, who will be entering 3rd grade next year. She has cerebral palsy (affecting her ability to write) and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (affecting attending, sensory, and math/abstract skills). We thought for sure she would be exempt from state testing, considering in 3rd grade, students are given state reading, writing and math tests. Our daughter, whose writing ability is that of a kindergartner, math is 1 year below grade level and needs frequent sensory breaks, will be sitting at a desk for a 3-45 minute periods, expected to read a writing prompt such as, “Write a 3 paragraph narrative essay about a trip you have taken” and proceed to do so at a 3rd grade level, or answering 25 math questions containing material she has never seen because she hasn’t mastered 2nd grade math yet (because of her disability). OH, but she will be entitled to “accommodations” during this testing, such as extra time, opportunity to dictate her essay to a “scribe”, directions and test read to her (except for the reading comprehension test), smaller testing environment, etc. We don’t see how any of that will catapult her to a 3rd grade level, when that is not where her current instructional level is. She has had wonderful teachers and continually makes progress which shows in her daily work, but on the high stakes tests, she will score in the 1st percentile and help prevent her school from meeting “adequate yearly progress” because she is not capable of performing at her “grade” level. This sickens me.

    When we questioned why she would not be eligible for the alternative assessment, the district responded that they are only allowed 3% of their students on the alternative assessment and they are already at their “cap” of students allowed to take the IAA. I could ramble on , but I am getting a headache. Again, the “pressure” of high stakes testing isn’t coming from parents, teachers, or students. It is coming from the government.

    I saw a couple of posts referencing Alfie Kohn’s books. Every parent should read them.


  21. Mom and teacher,

    Absolutely, the pressure starts at the top with policies that perpetuate undue emphasis on standardized testing and other methods of “accountability” that are in favor at the moment.

    What I see in my community however, is a lot of mindless buy-in — by parents, teachers, the local media –of standardized tests’ importance in terms of students’ future placements, in terms of which elementary school in each town is the “best” — even in terms of property values, for heaven’s sake.

    Of course as parents we encourage our children to do their best in school each day, whether it is a testing day or not. But on a local level, it’s clear to me many parents, teachers and administrators have lost perspective about the tests (take-home test-prep packets and early morning test-prep sessions for 3rd and 4th graders being just a few examples) precisely because the stakes are perceived to be so high.

    It is incumbent on parents and teachers to speak up for the children when we, like April, see that something is wrong with this picture.


  22. To Anonymous:

    I just saw your post from Monday and love it…it’s written with the same exact tone that school work comes with…you needed to add more “fun” though…The teacher is to make these things fun because we parents don’t want to make these things a chore for the teacher or for the kids.
    That’s never our intention.


  23. Please realize that teachers are required by their administrators to send home test preparation packets. If I was given the choice, I wouldn’t. I feel I have prepared my students for the tests through teaching the curriculum as it was intended and through the use of good teaching practice.
    Blaming teachers who virtually have no voice in the matter is unfair. Administrators are the first to lose their jobs if schools do not reach the scores mandated by the state, and for that reason want teachers to send home practice packets. Most teachers share the frustration of parents with high stakes testing. However, as a parent and a teacher, I do feel it is important to do everything we can to help our children. As a parent as well as a teacher I feel everyone must take part in the education of our children.


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