Well we managed to get through the first week of school together. Both of my children are now in school full time and I continue to work three full days a week teaching a pre-k and three year old class at a wonderful preschool and community center.
The beginning of the week was shaky. Both of my children were hesitant about going to school. N even had stomach aches each morning. I chalked it up to new school year nerves. N did talk about some tests he had been taking and I thought that they might have been doing pretests for math and reading from the various reading and math programs used in our school system. Well I found out what was really going on on Tuesday afternoon. I was in class(the first day for these children) when the school secretary came to call me out of class for a phone call. It was the school nurse from the children's school. Immediately I thought oh no N is really sick. It wasn't my big guy it was 'n' who is in first grade. I got on the phone and could hear her crying in the background. Sobbing is a better word. I spoke with the nurse and she said 'n' was in the office not feeling well, she hadn't felt up to eating and she said her tummy hurt. I asked the nurse if she new if something had happened during the day or if there was a stomach bug going around. She said no and then told me that 'n's teacher had said that the children had to take a test over the past two days and perhaps this could have been the problem. I spoke with 'n' and was able to do some deep breathing with her over the phone and get her to calm down. She couldn't tell me what was wrong. All she could say was that she didn't feel well. I spoke to the nurse again and we left it that I would try to get coverage for work and call them back. After talking to my colleagues and decided that if 'n' weren't physically sick that she really needed to push through the day so that she would know that she could manage and get through the day and that I would pick her up at parent pickup with her brother so that they didn't have to take the bus home. Well I called the nurse back and was able to talk with 'n' again. I told her that I knew she could do it and that her teacher would help her and that I would pick her up at parent pickup. I also was able to speak with her teacher who told me that the test the children had to take was terrible it was over their heads and that she never wanted to give it to 1st graders again. She also said she wished the parents would do something about the situation. I was completely floored that they were doing standardized testing with children who were just starting their school experience. It was the fourth day of school when they started the test! As an educator I know how developmentally inappropriate this practice is and boy was I upset. I picked up my kids that afternoon and as soon as 'n' saw me she dissolved into tears. She cried for about 30 minutes off and on and then it took her another 30 minutes to feel ok. Well I couldn't stand it! I wrote the following letter to 'n's teacher.
September 12, 2007
Dear Mrs. L,
Thank you for helping 'n' get through the rest of the day yesterday. We truly appreciate your kindness and caring. I think that 'n' was feeling tired, worried and overwhelmed by the day. The testing may have been what pushed her past her breaking point. She was relieved to see me at parent pick up and again broke down in tears. It was difficult for her to articulate much more than the fact that she just didn't feel well. It did take her about an hour at home resting and relaxing with me before she was feeling better. I know that adjusting to the first grade is a process that will take some time. We will get through it together.
I am shocked that the first grade children are being put through testing at this point in the year. These children are managing so much at the beginning of the year; longer days, new teachers, different expectations, relationships with new friends. I fail to understand the reasoning behind adding testing to all that the children are trying to manage at this time. Could you give me more information regarding this testing? I'd like to know the name of the test, if it is state or district mandated, how it is administered-timed or un-timed, are modifications made for emergent readers, and how the results are reported and then used to effect classroom instruction. I'd also like to know why parents are not informed about the testing so that we can prepare our children and ease any fears that might surface. Testing children at this age and at this early point in the year is developmentally inappropriate. I have serious concerns regarding the decision to test first graders and would like to know to whom I would address my concerns. Thanks for any information you can share with me.
I hope that 'n' will have a better day today. I have reminded her that if she is worried or upset that she can just talk to you about the problem and that you know how to help children. Thanks again for all of your help.
Well my letter was forwarded to the principal of the school and the reading specialist in the hopes that I would hear back directly from them regarding my concerns. Mrs. L sent me a note thanking me for the pointed questions and letting me know that her team really appreciated my letter. A couple of other teachers who have seen the letter also commented to me on the letter and even said they hope that I take it as far as I can. I'd like to take it all the way to the school committee however I don't want to jeopardize placement in future years for my children. I have mentioned the testing to a couple of parents and they have seemed virtually unfazed by what I see as a huge problem. There are so many other ways to assess children and establish a baseline for instructional purposes other than standardized testing instruments.
I am writing about this in my blog in the hopes that the few of you who read regularly might have some insight on this situation. I really would like to effect a change in the policy of testing first graders during the first weeks of school. What do you think? Please comment I need as much input as I can get.