One year ago, my family was gearing up for a change. Our eldest was heading off to kindergarten. He had attended our lovely, happy preschool, full of song, play and love. I knew that he was ready to take on bigger things — meet new people, be without me.
The year started OK; our boy was brave, eager and excited. My work schedule allowed me to volunteer as often as I wanted, and, though my child still seemed eager and excited, things felt off to me. There was an uncomfortably swift pace, a lack of art, and a lack of student engagement.
Something is very wrong
It wasn’t until our parent-teacher conference that I realized something was really wrong with how our system is running. My husband and I sat down with our child’s teacher expecting to hear about who he was when we weren’t around: Was he making friends, engaging in anything new, feeling happy? Instead, the teacher pointed to the computer screen and said, “OK, so these are his numbers.”
She was telling us that he was a “3” in letter sounds when I interrupted, “Listen, we are far more interested in his social and emotional development than his academic performance at this age.” So, she began to talk about this, but then our time was up, and out we went — confused and sad that he was viewed as just a series of numbers.
As the days progressed, I saw the daily mindless stacks of worksheets. The kids who knew their letters were bored out of their minds, and the kids who didn’t just scribbled on the sheets. It was kindergarten. These are five-year-olds. The learning and development curve at that age is enormous, and there is nothing wrong with not yet reading. But there is something very wrong with kindergartners’ not playing.
Time for action
I decided to act, even though I suspected I might be scoffed at. I emailed the principal, the testing coordinator, and our teacher that my child was not to be included in any of the spring standardized tests. By then, my child wasn’t wanting to go to school anymore, and I truly didn’t blame him.
Spring testing began, and my boundaries were set — or so I thought — until my boy came home and told me they had tested him. I emailed our teacher, who was apologetic. We repeated that we wanted no part of this excessive testing. Shortly after that he came home with the same story, and I received the same apology.
At this point my concern ignited into a flame of parental rage. I confronted our teacher, who told me that the school was looking into whether I was even “allowed” to opt my child out at all. I told her I could opt my child out of any school activity that I felt was inappropriate because parents have the legal right to exempt their child from any school activity for disability or religious reasons.
The kindergarteners at our low-income elementary school were subjected to 25 state and district-mandated tests, most district-mandated. Some schools give only 15 tests. Yes, a reasonable amount of feedback is necessary, but we have let the district, state, and testing corporations go way too far.
My son’s second report card came at the end of the year. His numbers had gone down in only two categories: self-esteem and self-control. What are they doing to my son?
What parents can do
A local movement is working hard to save our children, but without parents the task will be nearly impossible. It is time to take back the classroom, reclaim the time, and lift all our children up in confidence, joy and natural curiosity. We can, and need, to say, “No more!”
Jo Schroeder is a parent of a Eugene 4J kindergartner. Community Alliance for Public Education works “to defend public education from the damaging practices of ‘reformers’ and corporate interests.” CAPE meets 4:30 pm the first, third and fourth Wednesdays at Perugino, 767 Willamette Street. More info at OregonCAPE.org.