Julie A. Cunningham

Academic Advisor

Struggling with Standardized Testing: My Mom of Four Perspective

So, I totally hate standardized testing. Period. Let’s just get that out of the way. It’s bad for students, families, teachers, and schools.

Now, with that said, we currently live in a system that requires them.


I have four kids in very different educational arenas this year, and I want to think through why I am feeling less threatened by their testing situations this year than any other year to date.

11th: My 17 year old will be required to take the Colorado ACT this  year at his public high school. He just completed a mandatory week-long ACT Academy at his high school. This school denies access to the senior picnic next year for any students who do not completed the full Academy. The ironic part is that he voluntarily took the ACT in early February…. with a 30 overall and a 34 on the English portion. Tell me, how does it help him to retake a test he has already shown proficiency on? If he is content with that score based on his post-secondary plans, why can’t the state accept that test? And why would the school require that he study for something he is obviously prepared for? Now, could his score improve? Yes, but the point for us as parents is not to subject him to multiple tests without cause… I probably have the biggest issues with this grade level this year because of the tone of their communication and the focus on penalties for non-compliance. It just makes me mad and feels manipulative only for the gain of the school/teachers. My kid is going to be one of their ‘good testers’, and they are doing nothing but communicate doom and gloom. Again, make me mad. This is compounded by the fact that I do not feel like they have advocated for him and helped him make the best choices in his educational path. (That is a whole ‘nother rant…)

9th: My 14 year old will take TCAPs at Colorado Early Colleges (public charter) the week after spring break. They administer it, but have not made a big deal out of it. From what my daughter has said, all of her classes are ‘normal’ and there has been zero test preparation. Teachers are just teaching their content. She will have three half-school days of testing, and will be provided snacks and water. They are soliciting family engagement with the simple line “As this assessment determines the scrutiny we receive from the state and our authorizer, CSI, we ask that you encourage your student(s) to embrace the TCAP assessment and to do their very best on the test!” on an email. Personally, I don’t mind helping support the school in this area because:

  • a) the test is not the focus of the school
  • b) the test is being administered in the least invasive way possible
  • c) the school is providing great opportunities for my child
  • d) the test is not the focus of the school (see what I did there????)

6th: My 12 year old will be taking TCAPs with Colorado Calvert Academy (online charter) this coming week. He will have two days of testing (one full, one half). He has taken several computerized predictive tests leading up to this time, but they were fairly minimal- 20-30 minute computerized assessments. I have spoken extensively with the principal about how these tests are administered, and I know that in the purposely small testing groups they honor needs to stop for a bit and play outside or get a snack. Again, I have similar feelings about this school as above- the school is minimizing the test as much as possible, while calling on the families to honor their intent. I can respect that, even though I hate the testing itself.

5th: My 10 year old is homeschooled, and I am still dithering about what I will do to comply with state law. At this point, I will likely just give her the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in a low-key manner, but am also exploring the option of having an educational professional assess her via a meeting. The frustrating part of this for me is that the latter option seems to be what is best for students. However, finding an educator willing to sign-off on this kind of face to face assessment is challenging… also also begs the question in my mind, “why doesn’t the state allow teachers to sign off on their own classroom?”. I mean, if they are qualified enough to say if a homeschooler is meeting expectations, aren’t they qualified to say a public school student is also?

Ultimately, I think the approach of the school makes a world of difference in how standardized testing is perceived by students. I haven’t heard a single stressed out word about testing from any of them this year. Contrast that with their experience at a public elementary school where they were freaked out for MONTHS… they were not allowed to read a book or lay their heads on their desk after completing the test section (this might promote kids rushing through to read or sleep, you know), they were not allowed to play at recess within 20 feet of the building (there were cones- they might disturb kids who were testing), they were not allowed to speak at all in the hallways (again, might disturb other students), they were told over and over and over and over how important this test is, they were test prepped to death, they were predictive tested to death, they were told their teacher was graded on their grades…. all in all the school and district made the test larger than life. As parents, we received repeated emails about the importance of sleep and food leading up to the test, about how students have to be present, about what would happen to us and our kids if we didn’t comply, etc. Very negative tone towards parental competency and high high high level of concern/control.

Contrast that with this year, where two of the schools have chosen to marginalize the tests. Yes, they are required to administer them. Yes, my student must take them or lose his/her spot at the charter next year. But the overall tone and tenor of communications about the testing? Very chill and very supportive of students. They are not pressuring students to perform, but asking parents and students as part of their learning community to just do their best so they can go about their work. Very different from a school where the focus is on the test for months. The way they are communicating is so different for my children- it’s a matter-of-fact, ‘we do this as a community’, not ‘do this for me or I lose my job’. The resulting emotional feel for my kids has been huge- they aren’t stressed about it, and yet are engaged in the process of doing the best they can. So much of test perception is based on how schools communicate the test requirement to students.

Although the state says the test is significant to the school, these schools have chosen to make them insignificant to students. Until we can change educational legislation, this seems to be a happy medium, from a parent of four kids perspective. Yes, we will all play the game together so that we can all get on with our lives and be about the business of letting our kids learn in an environment that works for them. As a parent, this is more acceptable than fighting a huge opt-out battle with each school at this time. (And yes, I’ve had a few of those discussions with my kids’ administrators, and it was evident that there would be consequences for me and my children if we took that path.)


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