It’s official… well, not really

So I finally found out which kindergarten class my son would be in at our local public school. And I finally called the school to have him removed from the roster. We’re opting out of kindergarten in an effort to preserve the important elements of his childhood. There are no NY state formal requirements for homeschooling until age 6/ first grade so I do not yet have to file a letter of intent with the school. He’ll keep learning, I have no doubts–That is what children do best! He just won’t be forced to learn anything for which he isn’t developmentally ready.

What kind of schooling will his future hold?  I have no idea really. I’ll play each year by ear and follow my son’s lead. If he shows an interest in going back to school, then we will certainly support this and do whatever we have to limit the inappropriate nature of Common Core standards, excessive testing, and unreasonable data collection. But right now, we’re just going to have fun. He learns by doing and by playing. He’s a bright little boy, with normal levels of excessive little boy energy! I don’t want it limited, or kept in check. He needs it. He’s at his best when he’s moving moving moving! I’m also aware of my son’s individual nature. Every time I have tried to force any type of “lesson” on him, he resists, shuts down, becomes obstinate. But when I just offer the ‘tools’ needed to learn, and allow him to discover largely on his own with only slight guidance from me, he tends to absorb what it was I wanted him to learn in the first place. This year will be interesting. And it will be fun. It will be what’s most needed for him right now.

If the latest Welcome Back issue of my school’s newsletter is any indication, we won’t be missing much. In only the second paragraph of our superintendent’s letter on the front page, he praises the positive results on state and local testing, and mentions that the staff are “adapting their curriculum to meet the more rigorous Common Core standards…”  The Principal’s note on page 2 offers five paragraphs devoted to NYSED requirements, and STAR assessments in particular.  Testing, testing, testing– that’s how important it is in a public school education! Or at least, that is what we are led to believe. We can even help by “continuing to encourage your child to do his or her best on the assessment,” by visiting the STAR website to learn more.

Last year, parents focused heavily on refusing the April state tests, with one informal estimate putting the number of refusals at around 10,000. There will be many more this year who will have had enough with the hyperfocus on testing and data. This year too, parents are waking up to many other local and district tests, like STAR, that are used to unfairly evaluate teachers and take away valuable instruction time.

Recently someone asked if there was a list of specific tests to avoid. Some are obvious like the state tests and field tests, that have absolutely no relevance for our children’s learning. The field tests use our children as guinea pigs to try out questions for future tests that generate profits for testmaking companies. The  state tests are poor indicators of our children’s actual performance and are unfair judges of their teachers and their schools, not to mention that the results take so long to come back that they cannot aid teachers in improving instruction.

But what about other tests? My suggestion to parents who are unsure is: Ask questions! Lots of them. Insist to know what tests your child’s school will be administering, what they’re for, if they are used to evaluate teachers, how much time they consume, what they cost (in the case of STAR, which I heard was one of the less expensive state-mandated third-party assessment tools, it still costs our district far more than we received in Race to the Top grant money). Some tests might seem innocent–they might not be used to judge teachers, or you might be told they are used to see if the students are learning what they should. But as a parent, please follow your heart. I, for one, can never support a mandate like STAR, which wastes district money while other valuable things are being cut back or eliminated, even if the teacher’s evaluation isn’t at stake. Part of the reason we are opting out of kindergarten is because I feel there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to even care about a child’s formal academic progress at such a young age. Yet it must be evaluated using STAR pre-and post-tests in both ELA and math. Tests comes in many different forms and there can never be a definitive list for every school or even for every parent. Although I personally believe that assessment does not have to come in the form of a test, I am not against a teacher using tests as a measure of formative or summative assessment for his or her own classroom use.

We as parents must arm ourselves with information. We must do what we feel is in the best interests of our own children. And that does not mean we have to agree on everything. Our actions need to fit within our comfort zones. But if your gut puts you on high alert, don’t be afraid to open up dialogue with your school. And don’t stop until all of your questions are answered. And if something doesn’t feel right, please do exercise your parental right to guide and direct the upbringing of your children, including their experiences at school. Be courteous and communicative. You never know how this might aid you in requesting an alternate form of assessment for your child.

These are just my humble opinions, mind you. The first step–information! Get it where ever/ however you can! And use it to make informed decisions. Most importantly, if you’re sure, don’t back down.

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