Dear Parents, Please Ask. My Letter About PARCC to the Parents of My Students

When we return from spring break, my 5th graders will be starting their PARCC tests.  For four days, we will time that we could be learning, instead taking seven tests that range in time from 60 – 90 minutes each.  The following is the letter that I plan to send home to my students’ parents on Monday. I share it here because I know so many teachers experience similar thoughts around this time of year.

Dear Parents,

This week, your child will take the PARCC tests. For many children and parents, I know that these tests can cause a bit of anxiety. I want to assure you that your children are ready for these tests. I say this NOT because we have spent weeks practicing taking tests. NOT because we have spent hours of our days learning skills that will help them to do well only on a standardized test. NOT because we have spent time learning tricks that will help them to figure out the right answer on a multiple choice question.

They are ready because we have learned how to be learners this year. They are ready because we have followed our interests and our passions and we have learned how to use them in order to make the world a better place. They are ready because we have learned how to think critically, to ask questions, to search for answers to our questions, to support our claims with evidence in order to make them more valid and worthy of being heard, to think about issues from multiple perspectives and to think about what voices are missing in order to then work to seek those voices out and amplify them. They are ready because we have learned that challenging tasks are not something we cannot handle. They are ready because they each believe that they have the ability to shine, each in his or her own way.

Just because they are ready, however, does not mean that these tests are ever going to be able to accurately reflect all that your children have learned how to do this year. These tests cannot possibly tell us the things that we all know are most important. These tests are one small measure of something that someone, who has never met your child, has decided are important.  So when your children come home today, and for the rest of the week, feel free to ask them how the tests went.  But, please, also ask them these other questions.

Ask them how they helped someone who needed help this year.

Ask them how they went out of their way to show kindness to another human being.

Ask them what they have learned about themselves as a learner this year.

Ask them how they found books that they love and shared those books with others.

Ask them how they have learned how to use writing to change the world.  

Ask them how they have learned new things and shared that knowledge beyond the walls of our classroom.

Ask them how they have connected with other people.

Ask them how they have learned to fight for the rights of others.

Ask them how they have learned how to use the stories of others to better understand the lives that others live and the struggles they have to deal with.

Ask them how they have used what they have learned to make this world a better place.

Ask them what they have learned about the dangers of judging another person before having the child to hear that person’s story.

Ask them how they have heard feedback from other people and used it to make their work better and make themselves better.

Ask them how they have stepped up to challenging tasks even when they were not certain how they would ever possibly complete that task.

Ask them how they have made another person feel better about him/herself.
Ask them how they have learned to listen to the opinions of others and allow the thoughts of others to challenge and grow their own understanding.

Ask them how they have challenged themselves.

Ask them how they have learned how to disagree respectfully.

Ask them how they have learned to be a part of a community.

Ask them how they have learned to recover from moments of failure.

Ask them how they have become a better person this year.

Ask them these questions, because these are the real indicators of their success in this world. The answers to these questions will reveal so much more to you, and to me, than any test ever could.  And because I feel confident that each of your children will be able to answer these questions in beautiful ways, I know that they will do just fine with any challenge that they encounter. Including the tests they will be forced to take this week.

As always, please let me know if there is anything that I can do here at school to help make this week easier for your child.

Sincerely,

Jessica Lifshitz

 

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An Open Letter to My Students: I Am Sorry For What I Am About To Do To You

To all of my precious students,

I am sorry for what I am about to do to you.

This week, I am going to have to give you a new test. It’s called PARCC. There will be five separate tests, on four separate days, and my guess is that most of you will hate them.  My guess is that one or two of you will be brought to tears because they will make you feel like you are not smart enough.  My guess is that several of you will give up part way through the test and just start clicking around on the screen. My guess is that some of you will look around at the students sitting next to you to try and figure out if they are also as confused as you are in the hopes of knowing that you are not the only way feeling this way.  My guess is that more than a handful of you will, at some time during the test, ask me to come over and help you with something and I will not be able to. My guess is that almost all of you will wonder what these tests have to do with the learning and growing that we are doing every day in our classroom because you know that our learning has meaning and purpose in this world and you cannot figure out how these tests could possibly do that.  My guess is that all of you will wonder why I am making you take these tests.

And the answer is simple.  I have to.  Our state and federal government say that I have to give these tests to you. That you must take them. And I need you to know how very sorry I am about that.

I have no control over this. I have no control over whether or not I give you this test. But, like I always tell you, I do have complete control over my own thoughts and my own words. So here is what I need to say to you.

I do not agree that these tests will tell me what I really need to know about you as a learner or as a human being.  I do not agree that these tests will make me a better teacher.  I do not agree that these tests will improve our schools. I do not agree that you need to sit in front of a computer for over five hours in order for the government to find out what you know and what you can do. I do not agree that you should not have a choice in how you are able to show all of the things that you are capable of doing. I do not agree that in order for the state to know that I am doing my job that you have to suffer through tests that could quite possibly ruin much of the hard work that we have done together in building your confidence this year and in helping you to see yourselves as readers and writers.  I do not agree with these tests.

And even more than I want you to know all of that, I want you to know that these tests will never tell you who you are.  They will never be able to show all of your various, beautiful and wondrous strengths.  They will never be able to show all of the things that you have learned this year.  They will never be able to show some of the most important things about who you all are.  Because these tests will not show your humanity.

They will not show how you have learned to see this world through empathetic eyes.  They will not show how you have learned to choose ways to present your knowledge so that you can use your individual strengths. They will not show how you have learned to collaborate with your classmates and with students around the world. They will not show how you have learned to listen first and then speak.  They will not show how you have learned to do good things for this world. They will not show how you have grown as people. These tests will never be able to show those things and please believe me when I tell you that those are the things that truly matter in this world.

So if, and when, you struggle with these tests. If, and when, you start to think that these tests are telling you that you are not smart. If, and when, you start to believe that maybe you aren’t really good enough. If, and when, you start to feel like you want to cry because you just don’t know what these tests are really asking. Sit back. Take a deep breath. And then remember what you know.  Remember what you know about what is really important in this world. Remember what you know about how brilliant you all are.

And if you can’t remember. If these tests are bad enough that they make you forget. Then you raise your hand. And I will come over. And I will take one look at your face. And I will see what is going on. And I will remind you. I will remind you that you are a reader and that you are a writer and that you are worthy just because you are exactly who you are. I will remind you of all the things that I have seen you do this year. I will remind you of all the meaningful work that you have added to our world this year.  I will remind you of how far you have come. I will remind you of what you do for me, and for our classroom, and for this world. Every. Single. Day.

And then. Even though I am not supposed to. I will probably sneak you a piece of chocolate. And I will try to make you laugh. Because at the end of the day, these tests have no real meaning for you. And at the end of this week, we get to go back to the work that is really important. And at the end of the year, what you will look back on and remember will not be these tests, but all of the learning and growing that you have done this year.

So please forgive me. Please know that by giving you these tests I feel as if I am an accomplice in something that feels dirty and wrong. Please know that I value you more than this test. Please know that you are more than this test. And please know that as soon as this week is over, we will get back to our regularly scheduled learning.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Lifshitz