Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Finally - the last day of school. Burn the planners, throw out the disgusting lunch boxes, turn off the alarms. It's been weeks since I asked my kids if they have homework because, as Jen Hatmaker so eloquently put it, I no longer care. Papers come into the house and go directly into the bin. Oops, was that a math facts practice sheet? Whatever.

But. Yesterday they both came home waving their end-of-year awards, which could not be ignored. My kids do really well on standardized tests - one of life's little jokes, I guess - and the school gave out awards to students who scored above certain cutoffs on the Measures of Academic Progress tests. The MAP, as it's known, was recently made infamous by a group of Seattle public school teachers who refused to administer it. Booyah, Seattle. My kids take the MAP three times a year and, apparently, blow it out of the water. "It's kind of fun, Mom," is pretty much a direct quote from Lucy. Oh, the irony.

Anyway. So they take these tests, which they do not give two shits about, and they do really well, which I do not give two shits about, and the school... rewards them for that? For what? For being smart? I mean, it's not like they work to get those scores. At all. They haven't even been doing their homework, remember? What is this teaching them, exactly? 

But - okay. A reward for doing well without trying. Fine. There are bigger battles. Oh! Look! Here's one now! What about all the kids who don't get those scores? Is the school implying that they somehow failed to work hard enough? Because that is some bullshit right there. They're children! I can tell you with certainty that they are doing the best they can, and that the last thing they need is to be told, even implicitly, that it's not good enough. And yet here is how this reward system works: all the kids in the school go to an assembly. Those with high scores get a certificate, or two, or three. And then the kids who got the certificates get ice cream and the other kids don't. WTF?

There are so many problems with this that it's hard to decide which to pick out first. In addition to the implication that the kids who didn't score high enough did something wrong, we have the complete abandonment of the concept of community. Want your friends to celebrate your achievements with you? TOO BAD! They're not smart enough. Want to celebrate your friends' achievements with them? TOO BAD! You should be smarter. In fact, what we'd really like is for you to resent your friends while you feel bad about yourself. And I won't even go into the consequences for student (and teacher) anxiety about the test itself. Kids sometimes throw up or wet their pants before these tests. I mean, I ask you. Why are their parents not rioting in the streets?

And while this is an extreme example, it's indicative of the way rewards for academic achievement are skewed across the board. When you excel academically, the reward is supposed to be... that you excelled academically! You know, you learned stuff! But no - we offer certificates, and ice cream, and cheap plastic toys as rewards. And in so doing, we teach both the kids who get the rewards and the kids who don't that learning is not sufficiently rewarding in itself, which is the real tragedy. But I've already ranted about that in other posts, so I'll stop.

Parents were invited to this award ceremony. I didn't go. Ben asked me why and, being me, I told him. He thought about it. "Yeah," he said, "I think probably the kids who didn't do good on the tests need the ice cream even more." There it is.