College and Career or College or Career? Are We Missing Something?

Let me preface this post by saying I am not someone who usually goes on rants, but when something strikes a nerve, well, let’s just say I can get very vocal very quickly. This, just happens to be one of those times.

Recently, I read an article about an elementary school in Long Island, NY that cancelled the kindergarten play because “the children have to spend more time preparing for their ‘college and career.’” Yes. You heard correctly. Apparently, a bunch of 5 year olds should have more important things on their minds than being a bunny in the annual play. I mean exactly how will that bunny performance help a student get a job in 20 years? It won’t. And actually, by the time they get to 25, the bunny skill set will be obsolete. Better start preparing them now for the future which will require them to be automatons instead.  The letter that went home from the elementary school officials explained that the elimination of the show was done in the best interests of the students because “we are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills…[like] becom[ing] strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers.” You can read the article here.

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Forgive me, but this is by far the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard lately, with what happened to my daughter and some of peers coming in a close second.

A few weeks ago, I opened up an email from our school testing coordinator about students who were to participate in WorkKeys Testing. According to the ACT WorkKeys website, the purpose of the test is to” help employers select, hire, train, develop, and retain a high-performance workforce.” Attached to the email was a list of students who were chosen to take the test. Normally, I would have saved the email for later but something told me to look at the list of students. Scrolling through, I came across the name of an 11th grade honors student taking 3 AP classes. Puzzled as to why this student was on the list to see if he was Career Ready, I continued reading and stumbled upon another student and another until I saw the name of my daughter.

There are a few things that bothered me at this point: 1) Why was she on this list, 2) Why didn’t anyone tell me she was on the list and 3) How was it determined that she needed to be on the list. Not wanting to assume anything, I emailed our AP over testing and asked her the above questions. Her response? My daughter, along with all the students on the list, needed to take the test because their scores on the PSAT were low.

I don’t know if you know this, but I was an English major in college, I am an English teacher now, and I teach my students about inference and the power of words. So, we she stated that my child needed to take the WorkKeys test to determine if she was career ready, I immediately became perturbed. Now, I realize it probably wasn’t the best time to fire off an email considering my state of irritation but I quickly emailed her back and asked her to explain why an honors student taking 3 AP classes, including AP Physics, needed  to take a test to determine if she was career ready. It was my understanding we were preparing ALL students to be both college and career ready so why weren’t all the students in the 11th grade taking the test? She told me that the PSAT was a predicator for college acceptance so the county mandated that all students with less than stellar scores be tested for career readiness. In other words, these students scored poorly so they probably aren’t going to make it into a college so let’s see if they’re ready for the work force instead.

This would be a good time for me to go on a tirade about how much I loathe standardized testing and our dependence on using it to determine the future of our children. I could vent about how I have taught brilliant children who perform poorly on standardized tests because their critical thinking skills prevent them from choosing one right answer when they can justify why all the answer choices are correct.  But I won’t. That’s a rant for a different day.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am fairly even keeled, except when it comes to my daughter. Not that I’ve had to show this side often, but I am that parent when it comes to her education and equity of treatment. All educators know about that parent and those who have children in schools know how to be that parent if need be. This was one of those moments for me.

I politely emailed her back and explained that my daughter was not going to take the WorkKeys assessment for the following reasons:

1)     She’s not taking 3 AP classes because she wants to be work ready. I don’t care what her PSAT scores are supposed to predict.

2)     She is not missing all 3 of her AP classes to take a test to determine if she’s work ready. See reason #1

3)     The fact that she’s taking 3 AP courses (and doing well in them) should be a predictor that she’s working on being college ready.

That was three weeks ago. Today, I found out after the test that my daughter was forced to take the test anyway, causing her to miss Honors Accelerated Pre-Calculus, AP US History, and her Sports Medicine class. When I asked her if she told the proctors that her mother didn’t want her to take the test she was told she didn’t have a choice because it was mandated by the state. I am livid.

The last time I checked, I was the determiner of what was best for my child, not the school, not the county, and not the state. Do not tell me that my child, or any other child for that matter, is not college ready because they didn’t score high enough on some ridiculous test that tests how well they test and not what they know. Students are far more insightful and perceptive than we give them credit for. They know who takes what classes. They know which students are classified as nerds and who aren’t. They understand the academic hierarchy that exists in all schools so when they look around and see only certain students testing, what message does it send? One student came to me so discouraged that he said “well, I thought I was preparing for college but I guess I need to be looking at a career instead.”  I was heartbroken.

When schools and districts start making decisions for students without the consent or input of their parents, something is terribly wrong. When students are made to feel that their dreams of college are futile because of some test score, something is terribly wrong. When 5 year-olds can’t be 5 years old because they have to prepare to be college and career ready, well you get the point.

Let me be clear: I am not speaking against students being college and career ready.  I know this is what our students need to be competitive in a global marketplace and I support it completely. However, when, under the guise of making students college and career ready, we force them into boxes,  take away experiences, hinder dreams, and keep parents out of the loop  we can are doing more harm than good.

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One thought on “College and Career or College or Career? Are We Missing Something?

  1. It is unfortunate that in today’s educational landscape, if it doesn’t have a number attached to it, it basically doesn’t exist. Fulton County Schools is 100% on this bandwagon and is in fact leading the way nationally on trying to quantify everything. There are too few discussions, nationally or locally, to define what it is we are quantifying or what it means to be educated. But those don’t really matter if your goal is to market your schools to corporate sponsors. These numbers without context are misleading at best and dangerous at worst. And as for the “career ready” label… what kind of 18-19 year old is ready for a “career?” Certainly none I’ve ever met. I certainly wasn’t.

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