Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ready or Not

As a result of love and possible lunacy, I am blessed with five children.  Two, a son and a daughter, are mine by birth.  Three stepdaughters are mine by marriage.   They range in age from 15-25 and in heights from 4’10’ to 6’2”, with the youngest two, ironically being the tallest.  All are very unique in personality, accomplishments, talents and interests.  As a result of the ages, we are beyond the stage of club sports, music lessons and school productions.  We are in the Age of Ceremonies now.  Every May/June finds us traveling to or planning a celebration of one kind or another.  Time is now marked by Commencements rather than tournaments or banquets.

Just last week, I attended the most recent of our Ceremonies.  This one was held in Boston, Massachusetts at none other than the oldest and most prestigious College in the country.  We went to Harvard to attend one of our daughters’ Commissioning and then Commencement ceremonies.  As a side note, I have noticed that the higher the cost of tuition, the more ceremonies are performed upon graduation.  I guess College administrators want to make sure we get our money’s worth! Thus, these events are often 2-3 day affairs.  As I sat through the reading of the names of the graduates on a very warm and sunny Thursday early afternoon, I thought about what makes a child “College and Career Ready”.  How were these bright, young adults considered ready to enter the “Real World”?  Are they truly “Career Ready”? Some of them definitely are.   Others will find that they are not and will retreat back into academia to pursue further education and stave off entering the responsibilities that come with adulthood.  Still others will forge forward only to wake up one day and ask themselves “How did I get here?”

This group of bright young minds were the last of the students who left high school before Common Core made its way forward.  Without the current curriculum and tests, how was it determined that these students were ready to enter college and careers?  I can only assume that potential school admissions officers and employers had to make that determination based on grades that were awarded on teacher made tests (Oh the horror!), teacher recommendations and involvement in clubs and activities.  Without the Pearson made tests, I can only guess by the number of outstanding youths, that this must have been an arduous task. 

Is a test or series of tests a true indicator of how College and Career Ready a student is?  I would argue that there is no way a test can predict something as esoteric as that.  As a parent of five, I can’t give much credence to it either.  College and career readiness is so much more than academic knowledge or the ability to perform well on a test.  To be truly ready for College and/or a career, one must possess a certain amount of maturity to be able to confidently handle the challenges of both situations.  Academic knowledge does not always indicate maturity and vice versa.  What determines success for one child is completely different than what determines success for another.  Studies are already showing that the tests that former Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan lent so much credence to are failing to show validity.  In short, these outrageously expensive assessments aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. 

I don’t need a test to tell me if my children are College and Career ready.  I already know that.  One of mine is struggling his way into adulthood.  He is a great test taker but a poor student, a good employee but hates work.  He needs much more maturity before he will be ready to truly take on college or a career.  My other one is pole vaulting ahead with maturity.  She’s an excellent student, but performs marginally on standardized tests.  When it comes time to apply to college, our biggest obstacle will be distance as she is a homebody.  However, she will be ready to go to college and it will be bittersweet for us both.

With each class of students that I educate, I like to imagine where they will be when they reach adulthood.  I often wish I had a crystal ball so I could look ahead and see if my predictions were accurate.  I imagine them as architects, doctors, teachers, stylists, chefs, movie stars, writers, painters, mothers and more.  I like to think that they will all be happy in their chosen paths, even as I am fully aware that some will encounter obstacles too great to overcome.  This generation, the Children of the Core, I believe, will have to come to terms with what Education Reformers has stolen from them.  They will have to overcome the impulse to give the “right answer” to questions posed.  They will have to search deeply to find creativity and innovation.  They will have to learn to question and demand more for their own children.

Out of my own five children, four of them have escaped the Core.  The youngest is on the fringe.  It is with constant vigilance that I work to protect her from the damage done through close reading and the emphasis on informational text rather than quality literature.  Through encouragement, she is exploring her own natural artistic talents rather than being pulled into the demand of STEM curriculum.  She will be college and career ready in spite of the Common Core and the invalid and unreliable tests. 

Administrators love to throw around the words, College and Career Ready as though it is something that should be hallowed.  When teachers question the curriculum, the tests and the standards, we are met with an incredulous look and an accusatory remark, i.e. “Don’t you believe in high standards?” or “How could you not want our students to be college and career ready?” as though we teachers actually strive for mediocrity in our students.  Personally, I do not believe in putting the responsibility for making a child “College and Career Ready” on teachers or on students, especially in Elementary School.  That responsibility belongs elsewhere.  As a parent, it is my responsibility to ensure that my children are ready for what adulthood, college and careers bring to my children.  I don’t place that responsibility on my children’s teachers.  It is their responsibility to give them a broad based education, spark their curiosity and encourage their talents.  It is mine to ensure they are ready to face the challenges that will come with time and experience. 

As our children go forward into the world and the Age of Ceremonies evolves from Commencements into Marriages and Baptisms, and celebrations move from parties and into showers, there will be no tests to determine readiness, only Life.  No test can prepare them for that which truly matters.

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