I especially like the part about how we should “maintain a pleasant home environment” and “avoid unnecessary conflicts.” “Do not add to your child’s stress,” the school thoughtfully advises – because apparently the school wants to impose all the stress itself this week.
What always galls me most about this annual note is that it’s based on the entirely fraudulent premise that maximizing the child’s test scores somehow benefits the child. In fact, if the test were really being used to assess the child’s academic development, you would want the child to perform in a typical, characteristic way, not in a way that is unrepresentative of her usual, everyday abilities. Going out of your way to ensure that the child is unusually well-fed, well-rested, and well-medicated (!), with test-taking strategies freshly rehearsed, could only distort the result in a way that would undermine the purpose of the assessment. It makes no more sense to prep the child to do well on the tests than to prep her to do well in her annual visit to the doctor.
In reality, a high test score doesn’t benefit the child at all; it benefits the school and its staff. They’re the ones whose performance is being measured by these tests, and whose employment could be affected by it. Yet the school leads the kids to believe that the test is somehow a judgment on them, and that a low score would be a personal failure, with unspoken but ominous consequences.
Here’s what I think parents should do to prepare their kids for testing week:
- Laugh at the notion that their performance on a test in elementary school could have any bearing on their future.
- Explain that the tests matter for the school, not for the student. Express sympathy for the staff members who are subject to this kind of evaluation, but make it clear that it is not the child’s job to fix the problem.
- Point out that neither children nor parents need to jump reflexively through every hoop that is placed in front of them.
- Apologize to the child that she has to spend a big chunk of her week on such a misguided enterprise, when she might otherwise have been learning something.
- Commiserate with the child about being subject to ill-conceived and burdensome policies, especially when she’s given no vote in the policy-making. If the moment seems right, consider reading her the part of the First Amendment that protects the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
- Then ignore the tests entirely. Go on about your usual life, with its typical ration of hectic mornings, lost tempers, and late bedtimes. Treat the tests the way they ought to be treated: as a vehicle the school can use to see how your child is doing and what she might need. There’s no reason for the parents to get involved in them; nor are they important enough to merit any more attention.
If you happen to live in a place where the test results really do directly affect the children – because of tracking, say, or competitive admissions programs – I wouldn’t lie to the child about it, but otherwise I’d take pretty much the same approach. I think it’s just as likely to have a good effect as this kind of thing. But then I’d make a big public stink about my school officials’ decision to make anything important hinge on a ten-year-old’s test scores.