Standardized Testing for ELL Kids

Standardized testing.

Schools care about it because government cares about it, and the government determines how much money schools get.  If you’re a parent with kids in school, their backpacks have probably been full of information about these silly tests.

I didn’t always think these tests were silly.  I’m a good test taker myself and didn’t mind taking them when I was in school.  “It’s an objective measure of intelligence!” I told myself.  And while that may be true sometimes, I have a kid who’s smart in ways that would never impress these test writers.

Smiles is in third grade, and in Missouri third graders test in English/Reading and in Math.  I wasn’t sure what accommodations would be made for him and I wasn’t even sure that this test was a good idea, so today I talked to his ELL teacher, his normal teacher, and the principal.  To be honest I was expecting a bit of a battle, but I left these conversations feeling as if the teachers shared my concerns.  Turns out there had already been a lot of conversation between them regarding if Smiles was even required to take the English/Reading portion.  Kids who have been here for less than a year are exempt and they weren’t sure if Smiles met that deadline or not.  It turns out that he just squeaked through and won’t have to take the English/Reading portion.  We all sighed with relief!

The principal explained to me that (according to her) there is no option to opt-out of portions a child is required to take.  If a child simply does not show up, the district has to count their score as a zero, which significantly brings down the average and impacts their overall performance.  Apparently the overall performance is used for a bunch of different things, but to be honest I care about my child and not a school’s performance, so I didn’t really pay attention during that part.  So Smiles would have to take the math portion, but he would do so sitting 1:1 with his ELL teacher.  She would read him each problem and read the answers he had to choose from. Now Smiles is actually pretty decent at math so I was okay with him taking this portion.  I figured we’d talk about the test this week and do some practice problems each night.

We do a lot of homework in this house.  Our two big kids had very minimal formal education before they joined our family, so it’s not like they already know concepts that they just have to translate.  They have to learn the concepts themselves.  Diva’s young enough that it’s not really a big deal, but for Smiles it’s a major issue. (Lord have mercy on you parents who adopted older kids).  He is learning quickly, but he just missed so much foundational stuff that it’s going to take him years to catch up.  We work with them for about 20 or 30 minutes most nights, but to be honest that hasn’t been our focus this year.  I care about them catching up school wise, but I care more about them finding their place in our family, trusting that they’re here forever, and knowing they’re loved unconditionally.  Occasionally that means we talk or cuddle or play instead of doing homework.

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Back to math practice problems.  To give you an example of what I’m talking about, here’s how a typical problem goes:

Me: “Taco Bell prepared 88 tacos for a meeting at Smith Elementary.  If the tacos will be separated equally among 4 trays, how many tacos will be on each tray?” Now, can you tell me what that was about?
Smiles:  Tacos.
Me:  Yes, what about tacos?
Smiles:  *Blank stare.*
Me:  Let’s read this sentence by sentence.  “Taco Bell prepared 88 tacos for a meeting at Smith Elementary.”  Can you tell me what that sentence is about?
Smiles:  Taco Bell.
Me:  Do you know what Taco Bell is?
Smiles:  A restaurant?
Me:  Yes!  Do you know what prepared means?
Smiles: No
Me:  Prepared means make.  So it’s saying Taco Bell makes 88 tacos.  This restaurant makes 88 tacos.  Next it says “For a meeting at Smith Elementary.”  Do you know what that means?
Smiles:  Oh!  A meeting.  Like people talking?
Me:  Yes!  Good job.  A meeting at Smith Elementary, that is a school.  So let’s look at the sentence again.  “Taco Bell prepared 88 tacos for a meeting at Smith Elementary.”  What does that mean?
Smiles:  A restaurant makes 88 tacos for people to talk and eat.
Me:  Yes, very good!  Let’s move on.  “If the tacos will be separated equally among 4 trays..”  Do you know what equally means?
Smiles: No
Me:  It means the same. (Lay out 4 pieces of paper and putting 2 pennies on each).  See, all these papers have an equal amount of pennies on them.  (Puts different amount of pennies on each paper).  Now, are they equal?
Smiles:  No!
Me:  Good!  So they separate the tacos equally among 4 trays.  Do you know what a tray is?
Smiles:  Like at lunch?
Me:  Yes, good job Smiles.  So, do you know what the math problem is?  How could we solve this?
Smiles:  *Thinking*
Me:  What are the two numbers in this problem?
Smiles:  88 and 4.
Me:  What do you think you should do to them?
Smiles:  Plus?
Me:  Let’s think about the problem.  There are 88 tacos and 4 trays.  Can we draw that?
Smiles:  OH!  *Draws 4 circles*
Me:  Now what?
Smiles:  I really have to draw 88 lines?
Me:  Yep.
Smiles: AWW MAN.  *GROAN, HEAVY SIGH* *Takes him 4 tries because he’s starting to lose focus, but eventually finishes distributing his 88 lines in 4 circles*  It’s 22!
Me:  Good job Smiles!  That is right!  I’m so proud of you!

Guys, that is ONE problem.  My boy knows how to divide 88 by 4.  He doesn’t know how to solve these word problems yet, even if they’re read to him.  And he’s going to have a whole test full of these problems.

I told Smiles I wanted him to try his best but that this test wasn’t really important and that I didn’t care how he did.  Our dear social worker is also an adoptive parent.  Her child is 11, has been home a little over a year, and just took her first standardized test.  She alternated picking “a,b,c,d” or spelling things like “d,a,d”.  I’m thinking we may employ a similar strategy!  It’s frustrating to me because while I do understand the value of standardized testing and I want to set high expectations for my child, it’s just not a realistic goal to expect someone who is still so new to sit through and focus on something like this.  And if it’s frustrating for me, I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for him!

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