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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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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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!

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

 

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Encouraging Our Children: What Every Kid Needs at Christmas

The most meaningful gift I have ever received is currently worth $2.99.  One year when I was a kid, my family was having a particularly tough Christmas financially.  We lived in a 2-bedroom apartment with my Dad, Mom, 2 sisters and Grandpa.  Needless to say, no one got an X-Box or an LED TV that year.  We had a Charlie Brown sort of a tree and some simple decorations that my mom had cobbled together.

We don’t do the “one present on Christmas Eve” thing in my family.  We do the “all presents on Christmas Eve” thing.  That night, my youngest sister passed out the gifts around the tree to each person in the room.  That was her job and it still is, even though she’s 34 now.  My lone gift was an envelope.  Taking turns, everyone opened their presents and it finally got to me.  I tore open my little envelope and found a note.  The note was just a piece of paper with a handwritten clue on it.  The clue led me to another clue in a different part of the apartment.  That clue took me to another clue.  In my PJ’s, I scurried from clue-to-clue, covering all 700 square-feet of that tiny apartment.

Continue reading Encouraging Our Children: What Every Kid Needs at Christmas

Seeing the Best in Our Kids: There you are Peter!

One of my favorite movie scenes is in “Hook,” the 1991 Peter Pan adaptation.  Robin Williams plays a grown Peter who is now a stressed-out workaholic lawyer that has long since forgotten about the carefree fun of his childhood.  This is until his lifetime nemesis, Captain Hook, kidnaps his children as he is forced to return to Neverland to rescue them.  When he arrives there, he realizes that the only thing that has changed is him.  His friends are still young and happy, and no one recognizes him, until a young boy curiously approaches him.  It’s one of his old friends.  Peter kneels down to the boy’s level and they look into each others eyes.  There is silence as the boy takes Peter’s glasses off.  He grabs his cheeks and squeezes the skin on his face, all the while staring at him.  He intently examines his teeth and nose.  Finally, a huge smile overtakes him and he exclaims, “Oh, there you are Peter!”

Continue reading Seeing the Best in Our Kids: There you are Peter!