A frustrated TN Mom wrote the letter below during TCAP testing last year. She wanted to know how to send it to someone who could make a difference, so we are happy to pass this along to all the School board members, Superintendents, Senators, Representatives, Commissioner Kevin Huffman, Governor Haslam, and to the media. It is easy to see why parents are so upset:
Dear important elected official who can make a difference,
I know you are a very busy and important person, but I would really appreciate it if you could read my letter. It matters very much to me and my family. See, I just cleaned up puke.
Yes, vomit. My youngest daughter, who is 9 years old and in the 3rd grade, is stressed to the point that she threw up. She can’t sleep she is so worried. She loved school until just this past month. Now, everything that is normal and consistent in her school has changed because they are in TCAP testing prep mode. Instead of being with her teacher that she loves, her class is herded like cattle between 5 different 3rd grade teachers each day to be drilled on TCAP questions. This will be the schedule for 3 weeks. Drill, drill, drill. No weekly spelling words or literature stories anymore because they have to be ready for THE test. In music class, they were taught songs about testing and “Zapping the TCAP”. Her guidance counselor even taught the whole class how to deal with stress by practicing deep breathing just in case students freaked out on THE test. (Which is like me telling you not to freak out if a giant spider crawls on your head because it just might happen. To kids, that will be ALL they can worry about until it really comes true). Also, her school, which is normally a cheerful, bright environment full of colorful artwork will soon be stripped bare and their school will look like a prison to prevent cheating. Blank concrete cinder-block block walls and empty cork bulletin boards in every classroom will be what children see for testing week (and really for the rest of the year, since there are only a few weeks left before summer break). The only thing allowed on their desk will be #2 pencils.
How do I know my vomiting 9 year old isn’t really sick? Déjà vu… It was just a few years ago that our oldest child was only 8 years old in the 2nd grade when she started having stomach aches. 8 years old. We thought it was a virus at first, but when it didn't get better, we took her to her pediatrician. The pediatrician thought it could be a food allergy, so over the course of a few months, we tried all sorts of remedies from eliminating dairy & gluten, and adding probiotics to her diet. Her stomach issues only got worse. She missed quite a bit of school. The pediatrician was perplexed and referred her to a GI doctor who sent us to an outpatient facility to have our 8 year old daughter put to sleep so he could put cameras inside her little body. He looked at every inch of her intestinal tract and cut out tissue samples to biopsy. His diagnosis: our child was perfectly healthy, thank God! The next week after the biopsies were back, he asked her some questions and diagnosed her with: Anxiety. Specifically, anxiety over the testing at school. 8 years old. He said he is seeing more and more of this test anxiety in children, especially in the children who are A+ level over-achievers like my daughter. We had no clue she was worried about the standardized test at school (Our child called this test "TCAP," but the test for 2nd graders was really the SAT10 test which is basically the same thing as TCAP except for 2nd graders)
I know my kids better than anyone on the planet. No matter how much my husband and I tell our children that the stupid TCAP test doesn't matter, they know better. They see how the teachers are stressed over it. Kids are very intuitive and pick up on things. I want to opt my children out of the stupid tests, but the district won’t allow it. The district says the state law won't allow it. If we keep them home on test days, their grades on their report cards will drop from A’s & B’s to C’s & D’s. I hate this. You don’t know how much I hate this. There are curse words I’m thinking of right now (but I won't say aloud) because of the greedy testing companies and politicians who force this on my children. There is no good reason for this. This test doesn't help my children learn. We won’t even get their scores until the fall, a few months after they have moved into the next grades! If we could afford private schools, my children wouldn't even have to take these high-stakes tests. Do politicians even realize how bad it is in public schools?
And this stupid Common Core math makes me want to puke, too, right along with my child. Don’t get me wrong… I agree with high standards. I agree with understanding clear concepts. However, I don’t see the point in doing math with these backward, confusing methods. Drawing arrays and hoops on a number line is NOT the clear, simple way to solve a simple equation. It confuses younger kids by showing them so many methods that they can't remember any of them correctly. This new math is only making the curriculum companies richer.
Even scarier, I sure as heck don’t want the government or a company contracted with the government tracking my child's personal information or guiding my child into a career path based on test results. That is my children’s right to decide for themselves. Their data should be protected, and we, as their parents, should be able to control and protect who has access to it. The FERPA law doesn’t protect my children, it protects the companies who seek to profit from my children’s data. There is a big difference between the two.
Don’t tell me that Common Core is “only standards” or that the problems are from “bad implementation” or that “Common Core doesn't require data mining”. I know better. I've read the Race to the Top Application and all the Appendixes to it. It is there. It is inseparable. It is undeniable. It boasts how the government will track children, a "360 degree view of the child" from PreK through the workforce. TN agreed to do Common Core before the standards were even written. In exchange for money. Money that is long gone. Money that didn’t trickle down to my children’s classrooms. In fact, there are more students in my children’s classes now because our district had to “excess” teachers and increase class sizes because the money is so tight in our district to pay for all these stupid tests. Teachers are stressed. Children are stressed. Parents are stressed. Our kids are being boxed in to standards and tests that nobody can prove even work.
I’m not the only parent who feels this way. It is the main topic of conversation at PTO meetings and while waiting to pick our kids up after school. I know it is wrong of me, but I feel a sense of relief knowing that it isn't just my children having these reactions; their kids are barfing and crying over Common Core and all this crazy testing, too. Teachers in our community are even risking their jobs to hold public meetings against Common Core and testing. This anger in the community is not going away.
I don’t think politicians or the media realize what a hot button this is. There is no Republican or Democrat party to pin the blame on for these problems. Parents are angry at both sides for forcing this on our children. When Democrats are willing to vote for a Tea Party candidate if that person says he will abolish Common Core, you know something is very, very wrong.
Which is why I am writing this letter right now, even though I should be washing the pile of puke-covered laundry. Please, I beg of you, STOP Common Core. STOP this incessant testing. Let our kids have normal childhoods and enjoy learning. Stop pushing OUR kids in ways that YOUR children in private schools are not forced to do.
Thank you for reading my letter,
A mother of stressed children in Tennessee