Opting Out Is Not an Option for Me

By Helia Castellon, NCLR Blog guest contributor

Castellon w/her husband and three daughters.

Every day I send my three daughters to school with the confidence that they are learning. And every day when I ask them about what they learned in school, I, like so many other parents, will more likely than not get the same response: “Nothing.”

“Really?” I’ll reply. “After seven hours in school, you learned nothing?”

Occasionally I’ll hear about some new project, and I’ll definitely hear about the homework assigned two weeks prior the day before it is due. But what my children don’t tell me in their own words, I can definitely hear in their changed vocabulary, in the new topics they want to explore at the bookstore, or even the unexpected references they make or questions they ask when watching a movie or listening to conversations around them. So I know they are learning “something” even though they tell me they are learning “nothing.”

Education is the most important thing I can provide for my three daughters. But it is not enough for me to know that they are learning; I need to know that they are achieving.

As a parent, I’ve heard about the many changes taking place in education. What hasn’t changed, however, is the importance and the necessity of tests. No one likes them—they cause sleepless nights, and on occasion they might even make my girls cry. But one thing I’ve realized as a parent is that the tests my children take allow me to know how my girls are doing and think about what more I can do as a parent to help them succeed. When I see in black and white that my nine-year-old is not doing so well in reading, then that’s a signal for me to encourage her to summarize what she read and check her understanding. If my 15-year-old is having trouble mastering algebraic equations, then that’s my signal to advise her on how she can approach her teacher for extra help, or take that next step and schedule a parent-teacher conference.

What I’ve learned over the years is that assessments benefit me just as much as I assume they benefit my daughters’ teachers. They keep me informed about my children’s academic progress in a more formal way that then allow me to have a discussion with their teachers on concrete facts and not on vague anecdotes. By having this information I can be a partner with my children’s teachers, all of us intervening in ways that are purposeful and within our capacity as parents and educators.

My daughters have spent countless nights preparing themselves to be the best students they can so that they can become the next generation of engineers, doctors, and whatever else they think of becoming. It is my right as a parent to make sure that they are learning, that their outcomes are measured, and their progress is accounted for. Opting out is not an option for me because without this knowledge I will not know where to push, where to support, or where I need to advocate on their behalf. Yearly assessments allow me to do just that.

Helia Castellon is an adjunct instructor for the Los Angeles Community College District. She is the mother of three school-aged children and lives in Fontana, Calif.

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