Saturday, March 28, 2015

Parenting Month 53: When Eagles fly

T's major events for the month were taking a trip and our first experience with high stakes testing.  By all accounts both went quite well. T has always been a good traveler, and the high stakes testing experience was one that was sane.

On their way to a flight
We need to go that way to get on our plane
This month was noted by mommy taking a work trip to Las Vegas, and we took T out of day care for the week and had him go along. Auntie P also went along, having been to Las Vegas before, but not in the company of a 4-year old. So amid lots of walking in the hotel, through a casino, to other hotels on the strip, we got many comments that he was a good traveler, standing patiently through many lines, and doing his job of pulling his own bag around and staying with mommy (or auntie). The flight itself was spent reading and playing. Even when tired, the worst he got was asking for a carry. It would be hard to expect any better from a pre-schooler. This was another instance where we pulled the 'you need to be a very good boy' on him prior to the trip. Of course, he also knew when the trip was over, so he reverted back to normal (which is still pretty good, but there is a notable difference. Weeks like this are where we want to ask if we can keep this child :-)

The other major event for the month was kindergarten testing. This is known as high-stakes testing in the pre-elementary world, because the test is being used to make choices on admission into a school.  Because T's birthday is in October, he would not be eligible for kindergarten next fall in our school district. Since he started pre-Kindergarten in November, that would imply that he has to repeat a year of something, either he takes Kindergarten next year at our daycare (which does offer Kindergarten) and then goes to Kindergarten again (when he is eligible for Kindergarten) or he repeats pre-K at the day care and goes to Kindergarten when he is eligible.  While there are arrangements to test into pre-K at the local school district, word on the street is that almost no one passes (to get into Kindergarten early, apparently the standard is test at a level of passing the year after the one you want to test into).  In addition, the public school Kindergarten is a half day kindergarten, so you still need to make arrangements for the other half day (which our day care offers).

So we are looking at a nearby Catholic school K-8. It is very highly regarded. In visits to the school we have noted the interaction between the kids and the staff, and also between older and younger kids (the 6-8th graders mentor the K-2 grade students). We like the smaller class sizes (our day care had a pre-K with 20 and a pre-K with 8 students. T responds to the difference).

The issue with high-stakes testing is that pre-school kids do not perform on demand, to having to make decisions with long-term effects based on a one time event, and the parents are fully aware that the kid's behavior is essentially random.

While the general concept of testing is rather insane, the concept of evaluation is not, a school needs to do an evaluation to determine if a child is ready, especially in a case like this where a child is trying to go above grade level (in the U.S. the pattern is to hold children back, so the effect of some parents holding children back and other parents pushing kids ahead is that there can be a 3 year range in ages. Later, the difference almost disappears, but at age 6, a three year range is very significant, so the school needs to know that the younger end of the range can handle it.

Hence, there is a little cottage industry of preparing pre-schoolers for high-stakes testing, especially in places like New York City where the better pre-schools and kindergartens are known and they get full. Because how the child performs in a span over a couple hours does make a long-term difference.

Fortunately for use, the evaluation at this school was sane. We have an ongoing relationship with the school, so T has visited a couple of open houses, another event, and has visited during a normal day. The school staff were aware that he has a record of not interacting with strangers, so we have been building the level of recognition over time with the staff who would do the evaluation. And the testing was only one part of an overall evaluation (which included observation of multiple interactions with the current Kindergarten students).

So he did pass and got accepted for next year. Does test preparation make a difference? We actually got test prep materials (yes there are such a thing), but in the end, while we did read them, we did not use them, with life generally getting in the way, and we spent our time with him doing other things. The book we have, Testing for Kindergarten by Karen Quinn, probably would have preferred it that way. The core of the advise was that the best way to prepare was to interact with the child over a long period of time and develop the skills needed that way.  But the reality is that formal test prep could have made a very big difference in a child's performance. I joked that in the efforts to make a test that was cultural and background neutral, the tests give a big advantage to one major group. People who prepare for pre-school hish-stakes testing. Many of the questions are based on the fact that a person understands the concept being tested and the form of correct answers. The test prep books and programs are somewhat built around making sure the child is exposed to the types of questions being asked and how they get answered. They also run through the various topics. While the topics of questions are all topics that children can get exposed to, to be exposed to the whole range almost requires deliberate test preparation.

Tiger mommy finds it ironic that having geared up for preparing for high-stakes testing a year ago (as we realized the effects of an October birthday and the implication that it would have essentially meant repeating a year someplace), we did not actually put time into test preparation. Instead, while mommy school did involve reading and arithmetic workbooks (and recently, music), daddy school involved going to museums and other places, doing wood projects, and building LEGO.  And we were applying to a place that did assessment, but did so in a sane manner as part of an overall assessment that worked with the characteristics of the child in question.

In other news, A also had an assessment done. She is somewhat behind in motor skills development (does not crawl) so we had the Alliance for Infants and Children come (a free program for those under 3 in PA). The assessments results were highly encouraging, they think that the delay in crawling is due to a physical characteristic, which is not a long term problem. But, they also evaluated other aspects of development. I was very amused at the report. It frequently references the fact that A likes to play with her older brother.and how that relates to the way she babbles and plays (even if she does not crawl).  I even had T read those parts of the report. :-)

Big brother is making Jello
Gege is making Jello. Can I have some?

A does not really crawl, although she is now at the point that she will get on all fours and rock (and sometimes even move!)  But she does enjoy pitcking up things, banging them together (almost) stacking items Particularly amusing is when she goes into babbling mode. It is as if she is trying to hold a conversation.

This past month of parenting has had its share of concerns, but we leave it thankful that our children are active and engaged in their world, even for any faults they may have.