Teacher’s message: ‘They can do it’

March 27, 2014 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

New York state’s standardized English Language Arts (ELA) tests begin April 1, and I am grateful that my fourth grader is not anxious about the three days of test-taking.

He is inclined to be anxious about many things, like thunder, high winds, and my absence at 8:45 p.m. when I had told him I expected to be home by 8:30.

But he’s not exhibiting any anxious behavior regarding next week’s ELAs – or the math test he’ll take later next month. He’s been quite matter of fact about the whole process, and I attribute it to the attitude of the adults around him, most importantly his teacher. Below is the email the teacher sent to parents this week, shared here in its entirety with her permission:

Hi Parents,

My, oh my, your children have been busy, busy, busy, and I’m so very proud of them for their efforts. They have been working very hard studying chemistry and chemical reactions, the American Revolution (including the Battle of Saratoga!), fractions, decimals, geometry and a steady flow of reading/writing with depth and thought. Wow!

I do hope they continue to share their class activities with you.

As you are very likely aware, we start our English Language Arts (ELA) testing one week from today on April 1st. In terms of logistics, we will be testing each day during our language arts period from 9:00-10:30, Tuesday through Thursday. Thus, the test itself will not vary all that much from our standard reading and writing tasks.

That said, I have a few thoughts I’d like to share with you, and I welcome your comments and questions. So much has been written in the press lately regarding the Common Core and state testing, most of it not very positive. Honestly, I think the Common Core has gotten a bad rap. Personally, I like the Common Core, I see the big picture and it’s positive. It is challenging our children to higher levels – but they can do it!! Your children are learning to take topics beyond the surface and understand them with much more depth.

Allow me to share an example to put it in perspective. In the past, your child may have gotten a question such as, “What color shirt did Susie wear to the party?” This would be easily answered, direct from the text. Now, questions require more depth of understanding and “closer” reading. Such as, “What can you infer about Susie and her choice of clothing to wear to the party?” It’s not a big shift, but a shift nonetheless. More importantly, your children CAN infer and they CAN go back into the text and they CAN think about the best way to respond.

So, that leads us to next week’s testing. As I have said to the children and I now say to you, the test should be nothing different than the kinds of reading and writing activities we have done all year. As their teachers, we are asking them to do nothing more than they are capable of doing. Because the test is designed to identify those who need help – that’s actually a good thing, because we will provide it. That’s it. It does not affect their grades nor their advancement to 5th grade.

As far as “test prep” is concerned, other than speaking a little about format, we have simply continued to do activities and concepts covered in the 4th grade language arts curriculum. In other words, test or not, this material and these kinds of activities would be done anyway.

Therefore, we are doing our best to keep a relaxed environment – an attitude of “it is what it is,” let’s smile and keep moving. Yet, even in a relaxed environment I continue to encourage the children to always do their best and honestly, I will speak to them if I see an observable “lack of effort.” State tests or not, I always want to see everyone work to their potential, and I’m sure you feel the same way.

Thank you so much for your support and encouraging a relaxed tone. That positive energy is very much appreciated.

My son’s teacher gave Parent Today permission to use her name, but we have chosen not to. Our experience has been that people who disagree with an idea sometimes respond with anger and personal venom, and we do not care to introduce that sort of distraction when she’s busy teaching children.

Whether or not we agree with Common Core and state standardized tests, they are part of the reality of our children’s lives in the coming week. Drawing our children into the political conversation will do nothing to help them when it comes time to take a test. Children easily sense our anxiety around a situation, which may result in them feeling greater anxiety about taking these tests.

We understand some parents’ opposition to standardized testing, and we at Parent Today respect the personal decisions you make for your child. However, we encourage any parent with concerns to have a conversation with their child’s teacher and/or principal before making such a decision.

My plan is to make sure my son gets ample sleep and has a healthy breakfast each day before the test. And I’ll continue to be grateful he has a teacher who believes in and encourages him, and who freely shares her enthusiasm and positive attitude. It’s contagious.

Karen Nerney has been a communications specialist with Capital Region BOCES since 2011. In addition to her 9-year-old son, she is mom to two daughters, ages 18 and 16.

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