The Value of Standardized Tests: There’s More to Our Kids

This is it. That time of year around our country when pencils hit the paper and the stress gets real. Numbers are burning through brains and forms are being filled out in mass. Tax time? No- it’s standardized testing time! Kids everywhere are furiously filling out bubbles in silent classrooms as their teachers anxiously hope that those sweeties choose correctly. After all, every ounce of teacher-worth could be created by what the percentiles of those tests come out to be.

Each year, when this time rolls around, I must remember that I am the head of an academic institution, while holding the personal belief that these tests hold only minimal value. With that in mind, I send some form of the following letter to our families before their kids enter the assessment gauntlet…

Hello Parents:

In the next couple of weeks, our students will be taking the standardized test in math, reading and other subjects. I want to share a few thoughts with you as we head into a week that can often cause students stress (we don’t want that:).

  1. The scores from the testing will tell us something about your child, but they will not tell us everything. A completed scoresheet does not know these wonderful kids the way we do, and it definitely does not know them the special way that you parents do. It won’t measure their creativity, their drive to finish things and the heart that produces that huge smile.
  2. We always want you to have tools and information to help you as a parent. Hopefully, these scores are another tool to indicate academic areas in which we all may be able to help your student grow. We must remember, though, this is not the only tool. We use it, gain from it, and put it away.
  3. Our staff will use these scores to find trends that will help us better serve your kids both now and in the future. We want each part of what they show us to contribute to how we make school (and life) successful for them!

I hope that this year’s testing is pressure-free and stress-free for your children. When they arrive, we will make certain to greet them with big smiles and treat them the same way we do every other week- like the sweet kids that they are!

When I was in grade-school, I had a few things going against me when I sat down to take tests. #1- I wasn’t too brilliant. Maybe that came once I got married, because I sure chose well there. Anyhow, #2- I could not have cared less about the tests! I made characters and shapes out of my bubbles and I’m sure if any teacher looked over my shoulder at my answer sheet, their inner thought bubble said, “What is he DOING?!”

Today, the pressure for students to score perfectly and begin “building a college resume” can be so intense. Kids as early as sixth grade are joining clubs, volunteering, and meeting with coaches to find out how they can one day get into the best colleges. Both college and high school students are trying to find any advantage they can and many schools report Adderall as their biggest drug problem. This “study drug” is prescribed for attention deficit disorder, but often students sell it to one another since it helps a person stay alert and awake for extra studying.

Meanwhile, there is little emphasis put on genuinely developing the character of our kids as they grow. The boxes, bubbles, essays, and percentiles are just a tiny part of that full child. Each of them is so much more than that, as good parents and teachers are fully aware. God made them each so uniquely and there is just no box that we can put them into. There are kids with courage, honesty, creativity, and ingenuity who will score low and change the world. There are also kids who will score at the top and struggle in life because of character issues.

Soon, your child will get their standardized test scores back. Use them as a tool- learn something from them, and find some ways that you can help your child grow academically. Then put the tool away and move on. There are many other great tools to use to help our kids and there are millions of things that make our kids amazing… much more than any dots they color in on a test.

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Giving Our Kids the Gift of Confidence: Daddyeous Protectosaur

The above photo is of my mother, circa 1987. And 1988. And 1989. You get the point. What was I doing while she was getting all this beauty rest? This:

Oh, and this:

All. Day. Long. When I was a kid, summertime meant that my friends and I would hop on our bikes and head over to a baseball field in our neighborhood. Sometimes along the way, we’d grab Baskin Robbins ice cream, then spend literally hours at the field. The end of the day would come and we’d come home dirty, exhausted, and ready to do the same thing the next day.

My mom would ask about the day, tell me to get cleaned up for family dinner, and remind me that I still had jobs to do around the house. During the day, she hadn’t texted me, called me, or found-my-iPhone.

What’s out of place at this “kids” playground? The adult!

Fast forward to today. Check out this photo captured by yours truly, budding amateur photographer. You’ll notice a gorgeous modern play structure designed for the enjoyment of little ones. You’ll see the detailed colors and thought that has been put into the creation of a fine zone for children. You’ll also come aware of a seating area for adults in the bottom right corner of the photo. This area is empty, because you can also observe the main feature of my work of photgraphic art: daddyeous protectosaur in his natural habitat. He is posted within easy sightlines of his prized creation, poised to pounce if she happens to slip or if any child dares be mean to her. He is sipping his nummy latte, but deftly only has the cup over the bottom of his eyes for maximum peeking efficiency. In this pose, daddyeous protectosaur is ready for anything. Unfortunately, his child may not be.

Is there a balance we can reach? Can parents today raise independent kids without turning them completely loose in a dangerous world? I believe the answer is YES! Accepting that our kids will sometimes fail is key, although difficult. Not checking their every move and step, but allowing the consequences of both is critical. Many of us have that backward: we check up on every single thing they do, then save them from any negative results that come from their actions. We pester, nag, and chase them about chores and homework, then blame anyone but them when they are held accountable.

What are a few ways that us parents can let our kids grow up and begin to walk on their own two feet? Try these to start with and you’ll be thrilled with the future adults you begin to see bloom:

  1. Let them play. I catch myself often wanting to micromanage my kids’ play, but I come to realize that they’re doing fine without me! Some of the best play happens when we’re not hovering so much.
  2. Don’t answer for them. When an adult asks our kids “How are you?” or “What’s your name?”, we can train them to answer that person politely for themselves.
  3. Allow them to do some tasks on their own. It’s amazing what kids can do- basic cooking, cleaning, yardwork. The only thing that often holds them back is that we won’t let them.
  4. Have them order food for themselves. Kids of nearly any age can learn to look a server/cashier in the eye and speak up to order their meal. This is a great area to train them in speaking to adults and an awesome confidence builder.
  5. Let them try to solve their own small problems. It is every parent’s instinct to swoop in and rescue their child. The reality is that we won’t always be there to do that. A child that never has an opportunity to problem solve will seek out help as a teenager, a young adult, and beyond. This will leave them vulnerable to accepting help from the wrong sources if they cannot find the confidence within themselves.

These kids are gifts from God and sometimes all of us can lovingly treat them like China dishes, making sure that they don’t break or crack. What may help them more than that is realizing that God has given them to us to prepare them for a life that is ahead. That life is full of victories and hardships alike. We can gently expose them to some of these things now to strengthen their roots as a capable child of God. Then when mighty winds come later, they can stand strong and not topple. Not only that, we may get some extra beauty rest like my mom did and be extra beautiful when we get into our sixties.

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Focus on character: You’re a Human Being, Not a Human Doing

What am I praising my kids for- Is it for what they DO, or for who they ARE?

That is a question I constantly ask myself while trying to build confidence in Bauer and Reese. For kids at ages 10 and 12, I want them to know I absolutely love being their dad and I always accept them, even when they fail.

The easiest thing to do is default to praising their accomplishments. I mean, it comes naturally right? When Bauer does well at basketball, it’s the normal thing to say “great shot.” When Reese gets a good test score, I’m used to telling her, “I’m so proud of that good grade.” But focusing on the accomplishment itself doesn’t tell them we’re proud of THEM, it tells them we’re proud of what they DID.

Reese has always been a good speller. A highlight of her school year is the annual spelling bee. She studies for the weeks leading up to it and works super hard to get the words right. I remember doing the same thing when I was 10. The only difference between her and I? She gets the words right. She has typically finished well in the bee and a good friend hilariously joked to me recently, “Ya know, Reese is like the Tom Brady of the spelling bee. She’s already won enough and she should just be done now.”

Going into this year’s bee, she practiced and prepared as usual. The bee came and it was really fun. All the kids were so brave and confident. They were spelling words that you wouldn’t imagine, all in front of a pretty big audience! Finally, after a tense spelling battle, Reese misspelled a word. She was out. An awesome girl from her class won the bee. That sweet girl had also worked very hard, studied the words, and been excited and ready for the competition.

When the competition was over, I knew that Reese would be disappointed. I went up to her, gave her a hug and told her this: “Reesey, I’m proud of your courage in front of all those people. I’m proud of how hard you worked. I’m proud of how brave you were to take that on.” I focused on her character, not on what she had done.

The year before this, she had won the spelling bee. Afterward, I saw her and said something like this: “Reesey, I’m proud of your courage in front of all those people. I’m proud of how hard you worked. I’m proud of how brave you were to take that on.” I was not proud that she had won, I was proud of what what she had done to get there- effort, hard work, determination.

The best part about focusing on character rather than accomplishments is that it’s something our kids can control and repeat in the future. They can’t control if they always win, get an A+, or finish in first place. However, they can always be strong, brave, honest, loyal, courageous, trustworthy, and kind. These traits will get them somewhere in life and will also result in great rewards. Those traits are what I praise.

The truth is that there will be times when our kids finish last or don’t win. So what do we praise then? Instead of giving them a “Great job honey!” that they know is obligatory, we can build up the person that they are and are still becoming. They aren’t appreciated because they win something or finish in a certain position. They are loved and accepted because they are a human BEING, not a human DOING. When they know this from us as their parents, they can focus on building strong character, rather than doing things to win. Then great results will naturally follow.

Each one of us is a human BEING, not a human DOING!

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Exposing our Kids to the Right Things: Everyone Else is Doing It!

I couldn’t BELIEVE the things my parents would NOT let me watch when I was a kid.  In my mind, EVERYONE got to see all the best movies and they basically had run of the television in their homes.  I remember how badly I wanted to watch some of the coolest action movies when I was a wee lad.  Well, that was a no, and now I know why.

As Renee and I continue to try raising independent kids who can confidently think for themselves, I am careful to remember that there is a balance in doing this.  We want our children to grow to be strong, wise, and ready to face what life has for them.  We also do not want them exposed to dangers that may permanently or irreparably harm them. Continue reading Exposing our Kids to the Right Things: Everyone Else is Doing It!

Being Available to Our Kids: Dad, Can You Help Me?

“Hey Dad, can you help me with something?”  I didn’t realize when my 10-year old asked me this question last Saturday morning that the answer would take up the rest of the day and hurt both of us in different ways.  I was folding laundry when she called me from the other room, because well… laundry.  Anyhow, she came out and told me that she had a problem with her earring.  Before looking at it, I thought, “Why would she ask me?  Does she know that I formerly had not only an earring, but also dashingly stylish blonde highlights in my hair?”  What else does this girl know about me?  She said that something went wrong with the back of the earring when she was taking it out, so I turned her ear around to find that the earring back was literally INSIDE her ear lobe!  My tummy turned, because I basically get light-headed at the sight of blood… or an earring stuck inside a lobe.  I calmly told her that we would take care of this and that she would be fine.  I internally said, “OH MY GAWSHHH!” Continue reading Being Available to Our Kids: Dad, Can You Help Me?

Confidence in Kids: You Can Buy the Milk This Time

“Make it a point to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable every single day.  You’ll be amazed by how empowered you’ll feel.  And naturally, if you pass this lesson along to your kids, you’ll help them become confident and empowered too!”  Read on as Natalie Charrette, 8th grade teacher and Vice Principal at Bay Christian School, shares how she taught her kids to overcome fear of the unknown.

Instilling confidence in our children, now grown, was always a parental priority for my husband and I.  We always made it a point to role-play different scenarios to teach our son and daughter how to speak clearly, look a person in the eye when talking and shake hands firmly.  We taught them to listen more and speak less.  We conversed often about stepping out of their comfort zones and when feeling in doubt, ask questions within a conversation.

When our son, Tyler was in junior high, we attended a neighborhood party, which he begrudgingly joined, although it wasn’t an option.  We gave him the mature task of conversing with an adult at some point during the evening, to which he just gave us the “yeah right” look.  Part way through the party, as my husband and I were mingling we noticed Tyler, surrounded by an unfamiliar family.  A mom, dad and kids were all talking and laughing with him.  My husband and I looked at each other inquisitively and wondered who this family was… or who our son was for that matter!  A little later, Tyler joined us in amazement at how well that question thing went.  “So, this dad asked me if I played sports.  The next thing I know we’re in a full conversation.  I just kept asking him questions, then his family started talking to me.  Before I knew it, we were all laughing together.”

Mission accomplished, our son learned a new skill that made him realize that speaking with adults and people you have never met is not as scary as it seems.

When our daughter Michaela was nine years old, I told her we were going to swing by the store to grab some milk.  She smiled and nodded in agreement until I parked the car in front of the store and handed her some money.  “Why are you giving me money?” she asked.  “So you can buy some milk,” I responded.  Next, it was a back-and-forth with her attempting to convince me that she just couldn’t do it.  I continued to coach and encourage her that she could.  After all, she had accompanied me on plenty of shopping trips.  “Just come with me,” she pleaded. “You’re a big girl, you got this!”  I insisted.  Finally, she hopped out and went off to buy a gallon of milk.

I will admit, I sat there anxiously.  “What if?” I kept asking myself as I peered into the grocery store windows, watching everyone enter and exit.  Although in reality she was only in there 8 minutes (I counted), it seemed like an eternity.

Sure enough, she bee-bopped out with a huge confident smile on her face and a gallon of milk in her hand.  “That was easy, the lady at the checkout was really nice” she grinned.  I just smiled and said, “Great job, you can keep the change.”

Another lesson learned.  The sooner we can accomplish the uncomfortable or scary things in life, the sooner we will discover our God-given talents and be able to use them for great purposes.  God’s plans for us are often much bigger than our own, pulling us away from our safe space.  However, the more willing and trusting we become, the wider the doors of opportunity will open for us.  These are lessons that can build confidence for both us and our kids!

Natalie Charrette is an always-laughing wife to Chris and proud mom to Tyler and Michaela.  She is also the 8th grade teacher and Vice Principal at Bay Christian School in Concord, CA.  In her spare time, she is the owner of Simple Steps Organization, where she finds joy in helping people organize their spaces and their lives!

Natalie with fam.jpg
Natalie with her husband Chris and two kids, Tyler and Michaela (Michaela is drinking her coffee with milk).

 

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Raising Responsible Kids: The Fistfight That Taught Me a Parenting Lesson

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It was my first year on the job as principal when these two eighth graders got into a fistfight.  It may have even been my first month.  I was so excited about beginning in my new position, that I hadn’t even considered there would be problems along the way.  I’m far past that stage now to where I typically beware of slipping on a stray banana peel if some issue hasn’t popped up by 11a.m. each day.

I’ve discovered over the past several years that we don’t have many good old fights at our school.  The few that we do have just involve pushing or name-calling, kind of like a skirmish in the NBA.  But this day involved actual haymakers and it was clearly instigated by one of the two kids.  To shorten the story, Student One turned a quiet recess snack time into a game of “let’s see what happens when I fire a ball at Student Two’s head?”  Well, what happened was that Student Two quickly changed that game into “let’s fight” and the gentlemen were soon in my office.  They were red-faced and looking as if they had both just run the mile at P.E. Continue reading Raising Responsible Kids: The Fistfight That Taught Me a Parenting Lesson