Friday, February 06, 2004

Pardon the rants of a frustrated mother, but I’ve just about had enough.

It’s standardized testing time here in the Mitten, and TinyTuna is on her last day of the MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) test. These tests have always been the subject of controversy: how it tests, how it scores, how it may or may not be racist, and how schools will do anything for a good grade, including several who have been caught cheating. Schools hold special MEAP rallies to get the children pumped up and they serve special MEAP snacks on testing days. Unfortunately, school districts are pretty much forced to live and die by the MEAP, because it's a part of W’s brainchild (funny to use “W” and “Brain” together, isn’t it?) known as No Child Left Behind.

Before I continue, let me make a few things clear. I strongly believe that all children need and deserve a good solid education. I strongly believe that there should be some level of standards before children are passed from grade to grade. I strongly believe that all children need and deserve to be educated by qualified individuals.

That being said let me vent my spleen.

I have seen a wide range of teaching styles and abilities throughout TinyTuna’s elementary school years. I’ve come to accept long ago that I will have to teach and/or re-teach much of what is presented at school. I’m not thrilled with that prospect as I often feel my tax dollars are paying for incompetence, but I understand the importance of, and am willing to be an active participant in my child’s education. I will drill her on facts; I will make sure she does her homework in a quiet, well-lit workspace; I will make sure she works to the best of her ability and understands the concepts being presented.

The problem is, I have NO CLUE what these concepts are. And often, neither does TinyTuna.

There isn’t a single textbook. Never has been. Every piece of schoolwork TinyTuna has ever done has been on a 79th-generation photocopied piece of paper, which is often illegible. The instructions are usually incomplete, incomprehensible or ambiguous, and the work needing to be done is more often than not merely busywork, fulfilling no apparent educational purpose, except perhaps exercising the right to use crayons.

I have asked for a textbook several times. The school district can’t afford them. I offered to buy one. None exist. I have asked for a teacher’s guide several times. I get nothing. I have asked for study guides listing concepts that should be understood prior to tests. Nothing. I have expressed my concerns about her apparent difficulties in test taking. I have asked for suggestions and offered suggestions. I was answered with “my students are always well prepared for the MEAP.” Um, ok.

Now suddenly, conveniently at MEAP time, there is concern. Well, no kidding, people, but I think you’re a day late and a number-two pencil short. Test taking is a skill, just like reading, writing and arithmetic. It requires clear, step-by-step thinking, which isn’t generally taught and is never enforced. Besides, if those kinds of instructions were on Methuselah’s Xeroxed homework paper, we’d never know because we can't read the dang thing. I just don’t understand why this is a problem, because the solutions aren’t like rocket science. If you want children to succeed, you need to provide child and parent alike with clear, well-laid out, logical information. Introduce the concept. Tell them what they will be expected to learn. Go step by step. Drill the concept. Correct mistakes. Drill the concept again. Correct mistakes. Prepare a study sheet that lists (again) the concepts they should now know. Test the skill. Go to the next skill, which should relate to and build on the first. Rinse and repeat.

Meanwhile, TinyTuna does her book report presentation today. This go-round consisted of reading exactly two pages from a book on puppet making and filling out (you guessed it) an illegible Xeroxed sheet of paper. On this sheet she must write down the author and title, three sentences about what she learned, and then answer five questions with “Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor or DNA”. She also has to bring in a big snazzy poster (bring on zee crayons!) and enough paper bags so everyone can do the art project. Remember, this was a BOOK report.

Kwality with a “K” folks. I’m gearing up for parent-teacher conferences.
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