This guest column comes from Erika Lapour, a Sioux Falls parent who has issues with the increased standardized testing that will be an integral part of the education reforms proposed and signed into law by Governor Dennis Daugaard in House Bill 1234. Lapour thinks HB 1234 ignores a crucial element in student achievement: parents.
"Please stop hurting our children by preparing them for low-level cognitive tests at the expense of deep learning. Stop treating my child as data! He's a great kid who loves to learn. He is not a politician's pawn in a chess game designed to prove the inadequacy of his teachers and school."—Timothy D. Slekar, head of the Division of Education, Human Development and Social Sciences at Penn State Altoona, and a parent.
Well before HB 1234 was introduced, I wanted to see less NCLB-mandated Dakota STEP tests. Most parents I know, no matter their political affiliation, want fewer standardized tests, not more.
As a parent, everything I need to know about my children's academic progress I learn from reviewing their daily work, looking at their report cards, visiting with their teachers, and volunteering in their classrooms. Standardized tests tell me nothing and are a waste of my children's time. Therefore, my children are being used as a tool to evaluate their schools and their teachers, and I feel I should either be compensated or have the option to not have my children used in this manner. What are my rights here?
HB 1234 implies that my efforts as a parent—fostering a love of reading, building good study habits, reviewing daily work, regulating outside activities that interfere in academics, communicating with teachers when problems arise, etc.—mean nothing, and that my children's performance on standardized tests are the sole result of their teachers' efforts. Don't get me wrong—my kids have had great teachers, and I feel the public school system has served my kids well. Every time I spend a few hours in my kids' classrooms, I leave thinking that whatever their teacher is getting paid, it will never be enough. But surely, my efforts have made a difference.
The only problem I see HB 1234 addressing is "the status quo". I say if we're going to shake up the status quo, then let's think bigger and take this a step further.
In addition to having the lowest teachers' salaries in the nation, South Dakota also has the highest rate of dual-income families with children in day care. I have conducted my own private, unscientific study and found strong evidence to conclude that when a stay-at-home parent reviews a child's daily school work and homework with them, the child receives better grades and is a better performing student overall. I consider myself to be a partner with my child's teacher in their academic success. If my children are forced to take standardized tests and they perform well on them, then I want something for it.
I'm not an employee of the state so it might not be possible to give me a bonus, but since we give tax breaks to corporations who set up shop here and contribute to the economic growth of the community, then shouldn't I get a tax break for making my home here and having children whose superior test taking performance contributes to the economic growth of their school and the community?
I would like to see the following proposed: Parents of students who perform well on standardized tests will receive a tax break if they meet the minimum requirements of being available after school to assist with and review daily work, signing off on all report cards, attending all parent-teacher conferences, and volunteering time in their child's classroom. We will give bonuses only to teachers of students who perform well on standardized tests and have parents who do not meet the criteria to receive this tax break. Further, dual income households with an annual combined income of over $100K whose children do not perform well on standardized tests will lose their child care deduction, which will be used to fund teacher bonuses. Parents can opt out of the tests and the tax break if they wish, but schools must provide an educational alternative during that time.
If parents don't have to worry as much about money, then they'll have the time to be better partners in their child's education. This financial reward will give people the incentive they need to be better parents who will create better students. This will also be a more accurate indicator of a teacher's influence on a student's progress.
Is there any reason why this wouldn't work?