With several sharp No. 2 pencils and a can-do attitude, my sixth-grade daughter will take the New York State exams starting Tuesday.
I’ll wait for the horrified gasp . . .
Despite phone calls, emails, Facebook posts, tweets, letters to the editor, and fellow parents’ attempts to convince us we’re wrong, my husband and I will not complete a “refuse the test” form. Our daughter will take the state English Language Arts test next week at her Queens middle school, and the math assessment the week after that.
I care deeply about my daughter and her well-being. Like so many parents, I have led a parent association, gone on field trips, attended publishing parties, applauded performances, participated in conferences, and guided her. I hope for her success and happiness. I want her to learn, to experience, to grow, to figure out who she is.
But I also want her to be challenged, even if it means she might sometimes fail. I want high standards and the best teachers. I want her to work to solve tricky math problems, to read difficult passages and interpret them, and to know that all she has to do is try. I am acting in her best interest, even by saying yes to the tests.
More than 200,000 students opted out last year, and parents cited a variety of reasons. I approach it differently. I don’t worry about how well my child does on the exams, but look to the results as yet another piece of the arsenal we need to educate our children and help them succeed.
I’m not making my choice to send a message to anyone. The message for my daughter, though, is that she should try. Telling children to refuse a test now is saying it’s OK to do that later, for future tests, applications, assignments, evaluations and more. The message that sends: When the going gets tough, the tough opt out.
At my daughter’s recent student-led parent-teacher conference, she presented projects in science and social studies, a short story she wrote in literature class, a video game she created in technology. They were wonderful pieces of her educational puzzle. Tests that push students to meet higher standards must be part of the equation, too. They do matter, and should matter. In New York City, even now, they’re a factor for admissions to middle school and high school. Elsewhere, they should be evaluation tools — for everyone.
What’s key is to keep the learning going. Test-taking doesn’t have to be a stressful, worrisome experience that starts months before the exam. The tests’ existence doesn’t create that environment; administrators, teachers and parents do. But there’s another way. Show students sample tests, teach strategies, then go back to real learning. Don’t let mock tests replace projects and field trips and arts classes and in-depth learning. Create an environment where students care about doing their best but don’t stress until they’re sick.
My daughter’s school has the right balance. And my strategy as a parent is simple: “I love you. Do your best. Afterward, we’ll go get ice cream.”
I don’t want to be told what’s best for my daughter. I don’t want to be told that if I were a good parent, I would “choose to refuse.” I certainly don’t want to be asked for money to fund robocalls to encourage me to opt out — money that could go to pencils, books, computers or art enrichment.
The opt-out movement pits parent against parent, and parent against teacher. And what does that teach our children?
There are some, especially parents of children with special needs, who may make a different decision for good, personal reasons. And that’s OK. But those in the opt-out movement aren’t talking about that. They’re trying to convince the masses, including you — and me.
Randi F. Marshall is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.