Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One thoughtful mom's thoughts on tutors & tests

I appreciate everyone's thoughts about tutors. I have two children - one who
didn't do well on standardized tests, but was mostly a teacher's dream student
otherwise, and one who did very well on standardized tests, but had such a
difficult time with regular school that we tried almost everything else
(homeschooling, special ed private school, then finally becoming a founding
parent of the Brooklyn Free School from which he graduated and is now going to
Ithaca College). We used the kind of tutors most people are talking about for
short periods three times - both for my daughter. I think they helped a little
in her case two out of the three times - when we found someone kind and patient
who could help her with the things she couldn't figure out herself in a large
classroom with an impatient teacher. It didn't work at all when we were using a
larger tutor center (I don't think they're in business any longer) and they put
her with someone without warmth or insight after the initial consultation with
the wonderful head of the center. We put her back with the head of the center
for a few sessions that she could fit in with our daughter, which got her back
on track with math skills in fourth grade.

I do think the biggest difference between my children's test-taking skills had
to do with what their vision therapist said about both of them - my daughter has
excellent peripheral vision, but has much difficulty getting her eyes to focus
for tasks like reading and math, especially on paper. My son has an easy time
focusing for tasks on paper, but has great difficulty with peripheral vision -
which made his life in sports and in classrooms extremely difficult.

I myself did well enough with test taking - (much better than my daughter - not
as well as my son) that I got into Bronx Science at a time when girls weren't
allowed into Tech or Stuyvesant and there was no such thing as test prep (at
least none that I knew about.) And as a founding parent of the Brooklyn New
School and Brooklyn Free School I thought I understood how ridiculous
high-stakes timed standardized tests are.

However, when I read Alfie Kohn's book "Standardized Tests - Raising the Scores,
Ruining the Schools" I was taken aback by how much "even I" had been taken in by
the hype about standardized tests proving anything about children's or anyone's
intelligence and/or ability to succeed in school or in life. I highly recommend
every parent reading this powerful book. If it's too dense, you could also try
reading my favorite parenting book by Alfie Kohn - "Unconditional Parenting -
Moving From Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason", or his book on homework
"The Homework Myth - Why Our Kids Get Too Much of A Bad Thing." He also has a
website and DVDs for sale.

All this to say - get a test-prep tutor for your child if you think raising
their scores on any test might help them in some way (make them feel better, get
them into a school they otherwise wouldn't get into, etc.) but know that it's
not helping them be a better person in any sense, or better prepare them for
life in any way. I would also say, don't spend more money than you can afford!
And, if you're moved to change things for future generations of test-takers,
join groups like Fair Test that lobby to change laws like "No Child Left Behind"
that are bringing the billion dollar business of standardized testing to more
and more (and younger and younger) school children.

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