District 112 is going to think I'm picking on them lately.
As I write this column, my older daughter is having trouble falling asleep. Tonight's anxiety stems from this week's Illinois Standard Achievement Test, being administered to all fourth through eighth graders in District 112. On an individual level, her performance on the ISATs means very little. However, in aggregate, it means everything to her school and the district, in a way that normal academic life is completely suspended.
By that I mean that our schools this week follow what might be called the Outback steakhouse theory of academic administration -- "No rules, just right!" In leading up to ISAT week, parents have been encouraged to send notes and treats. Students have been instructed to bring favorite comfort toys and relaxing games. I'm half-expecting to hear that one day this week is pajama day, or perhaps chew bubble gum day.
To some degree, all this relaxing of the rules is understandable, given what was described to me as the "high stakes" nature of the ISAT testing. The federal "No Child Left Behind" act of 2001 requires states to assess student performance, demonstrate annual improvement, and provide "highly qualified" instruction. And within District 112, we have schools that are not meeting the yearly progress guideline. That results in pressure on administrators, teachers, and in turn, students, for high scores on the tests to avoid potential or additional consequences.
None of this is unique to District 112. My Facebook friends recently chimed in from all over America, sharing similar stories of pressure, anxiety, and concern over schools that might be "teaching to the test." Some indicated that standardized test pressure is a reason they chose private schools or home schooling.
Often, friends encouraged me to downplay the importance of the test in my daughter's mind. That doesn't feel entirely right, either. Standardized testing is important on several levels, whether it is the ISAT or the more-frequent Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) testing. There has to be a way to know that all that we invest in our schools as a community is working, both on a district-wide level and all the way down to the individual. Like most parents, we use test results to understand where to focus additional energy, and where to applaud our child's talents.
In this past weekend's , the were asked what they think of "No Child Left Behind." All of the candidates seemed to agree that the law has lost its way a bit. However, most of the candidates also know that successful, comprehensive education is critical to continuing America's competitiveness in the future.
Our district knows this first-hand. With one school failing to make what the feds define as "adequate yearly progress," and others testing lower than the area average, parents, too, are anxious about the results of this year's testing. But as the 10th District candidates indicated, the current law needs refinement. The Obama administration proposed changes in 2010. Many of the improvements considered would positively impact District 112.
I am hopeful that some of these changes can be made in the future, to relax the pressure around the annual testing. Our children deserve the opportunity to shine in multiple dimensions, not just reduced to a mathematical representation of their collective brain power.
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