Saturday, February 25, 2006

Provincial Examinations: A Stretching test.

A few weeks ago, Owen brought home a new weekly assignment. If someone had first consulted me on this one, I would have said that Owen was already booked, and put the new assignment on a waiting list. Now, I know if I raised a royal stink, I could have avoided this new homework business. I felt Owen could benefit for doing it, even it it meant that homework now takes 45 minutes each evening. Yes folks. Owen is in GRADE TWO. This assignment involves writing a paragraph on a particular topic - whether that be making up a story, or describing how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Many of you are also well aware that Owen is not your typical grade two student. His language skills are not in the "average" category. Of course, when this happens, it means either you have a gift or a problem. But I don't really want to see it in quite that way. Anyway, I wanted to get a sense for what sort of goals and expectations that I should be setting. I made an appointment and met his teacher.

During this meeting, I came to discover that these assignments were training kids to take a provincial literacy examination. I was given a few examples on how the tests were assessed, and examples of kids who were assessed as "Strong Performance", "Appropriate Development" and "Experiencing Difficulty". Even as I read the tests written by kids who were "experiencing difficulty", a sick feeling formed in the pit of my belly. Owen was not even in THAT range. I asked about getting an exemption, and the teacher kind of skirtted the issue, and said that she did not hear of this before. I also let her know that I thought it was in Owen's best interest to do the assignments, I was not sure whether he ought to take the test.

At that time, I thought that it was comparable to ask someone with no legs perform a running test. The tests would automatically peg Owen as a certain kind of student, but at the same time, those evaluating the tests would have no idea how much progress Owen has made over the past couple of years, or what seemingly insurmountable obstacles that he has already overcome. I was not sure I was not interested in seeing the flat ED, and POOF! Owen has just become a random statistic, unfairly lumped in with all the other kids that have not had nearly the struggle or frustrations.

So last week, Owen's support and literacy teachers called me and asked if we could have a meeting about these tests. The familiar sinking feeling gurgled in my tummy. As routine as these meetings and discussions have become, they are never easy. It probably never will. I keep thinking when Owen goes to Oslo to accept the Nobel Prize in Physics, I can turn back and tell all those people who focused on how far behind he was to SUCK IT. But I am getting ahead of myself.

On Thursday, I met up with the literacy teachers, we commenced our meeting, only to be interrupted by the singing of our national anthem. We stood. The teachers, whom I really like and trust, first showed me how much progress he has made, And they are smart too. I was quite astounded (at his progress, not the teachers level of intelligence). If I were given the work sheet (which would have been a story and a couple of multiple choice questions) I don't think I would have been confident that Owen would have been able to answer any of the questions. But guess what! He was getting them perfect, or one mistake. Mrs O and Mrs B. felt that Owen had the skills to take these tests. We spoke about the differences between the Owen at home and the Owen at school and it became clearer that he is far more dependant on ME, and underachieves with me.

I asked why these tests were so important. I told them that I don't think that we need provincial examinations to tell us that Owen is "experiencing difficulty". And I was worried about Owen shutting down and crying when he is frustrated. They assured me that they could issue an on the spot exemption if he started crying. That was reassuring actually. They also asked that he be included in the pool of results. They said that he was very much a part of the school community, and that his results help in determining how much funding the school gets for extra literacy support. I appreciated how they put that. And I agreed that he could take the Provincial test. I just needed the Big Picture.

After I walked out of that meeting, I was feeling rather good. And rather strange that I was feeling rather good. I never imagined that I would be okay with something like this. I was also glad that I made that kind of decision. I was able to deviate from my ideals - because I have never been keen about tests. I didn't put my foot down and say NO because in principle I don't agree with testing. I was glad I could extend myself beyond my ideals. Shows that I am a push over heh heh. Kidding!!


McSwain said...

The deeper I get into elementary school teaching, the more I hate those tests. Here in the U.S., we spend way too much time "assessing," which leaves not enough time for plain old teaching. I teach reading for two weeks, then I have to spend a whole week doing the required assessments for the two weeks work. And then we wonder why our schools aren't doing well. But enough about that soap box.

It is wonderful to hear that your Owen is indeed progressing so well, and that he has good, caring teachers on his side. That's the way education is SUPPOSED to work--thank goodness that "teaching to the test" mentality isn't ruining everything.

hotboy said...

So heartfelt! Nine o clock Sunday night here in not so chilly, JOckoland. They take so much out of you, you're not really seperate. Kids! Hotboy

MC Etcher said...

Note to self: Be exactly like Heather when I have kids.

Only, you know - a guy.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

It seems that the school handled this situation very well. Kudos to them.