OBSERVATIONS · slice of life · standardized tests

The PSSA Tests and Medical Appointments

I walked up to the check-out at my daughter’s medical appointment this morning, set down my purse, and plopped into a chair. I took out my iPhone and opened to the calendar app so I could schedule our follow-up appointment. Once it was opened, I set it down and waited patiently for the man behind the desk to pull up the physician’s schedule. As I did, I noticed something that unsettled me.

Has testing insanity crept into the way we schedule medical appointments?  Something about "PSSA Testing" on this calendar at the check-out at my daughter's doctor's office struck a chord with me.
Has testing insanity crept into the way we schedule medical appointments? Something about “PSSA Testing” on this calendar at the check-out at my daughter’s doctor’s office struck a chord with me.

I found it curious that PSSA Testing was boxed off and labeled April on the 2013 calendar that had been placed at the check-out desk for the purpose of knowing when holidays and other observances are. I’ve never seen standardized tests demarcated on a calendar in a medical office. (Also, as a point of reference, the PSSA math, reading, and science tests are in April. The PSSA writing test happens before April.)

In case you’re not familiar with the PSSA, here’s what it is:

The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) includes assessments in English Language Arts and Mathematics which are taken by students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. Students in grades 4 and 8 are administered the Science PSSA. The English Language Arts and Mathematics PSSAs include items that are consistent with the Assessment Anchors/Eligible Content aligned to the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. The Science PSSA include items that are aligned to the Assessment Anchors/Eligible Content aligned to the Pennsylvania Academic Standards for Science, Technology, Environment and Ecology (Retrieved on 3/4/13 from http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/state_assessment_system/20965).

It’s a big deal if you’re in grades 3 – 8. After all, we all know how hyped up schools are making kids (and parents) over these high stakes tests. You know it because many of you work in schools that spend weeks, if not months, preparing for standardized assessments.

So, I’m wondering… Would you rearrange your child’s medical specialty appointment around standardized tests or would you take the first available appointment even if it meant they had to do a make-up test? (I know as a teacher I’d prefer all kids take the test at the same time, but as a parent, I know how hard it can be to get these appointments.) What do you think of the fact that the doctor’s office added the PSSAs to the calendar at the check-out? Is it just informing parents or do you think there’s a bigger issue here? Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

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41 thoughts on “The PSSA Tests and Medical Appointments

  1. What? I don’t get that? Why is moving outside the school? Why do we have to care at all? Why can testing be a natural and normal part of the school experience? Why is the sky blue? Why is it that I’m longing for the old days when high stakes tests were only SATs and beyond?
    Bonnie

    1. Okay, so I’m not alone here. Thank G-d! I felt like this was just me being cynical about these tests, Bonnie. I see that it’s not me being down on the tests, but being real about the fact that “high stakes tests” are affecting the way we schedule things outside of school. Seriously, send your kids to get a good education daily, get them to bed early the night before, feed them breakfast, and off they go on test day. Done.

  2. For years now I have been against a variety of tests/assessments that students are required to take and teachers to administer. They are not telling us things we don’t already know, and they are putting kids under needless stress. BESIDES taking up good instructional time! They are administrator “feel goods”; things they can point to and say “there, look what we did, that’s done and look at all those numbers…they must mean something, someone check it off”. No one listened. It seemed I was alone in admitting that the testing was not only not beneficial, but potentially harmful. I always wanted to scream, “Look, the emperor is wearing no clothes!”

  3. Even more frightening to me is that PA will be incorporating PVAAS data into our evaluations in the near future. I loathe PSSA time. I know that districts ask parents not to travel or make appointments during testing, but you have to ask yourself, what is more important??

    1. Stopped me dead in my tracks, Anita. I had to do a double-take (and then take a photo) to make sure I wasn’t imagining the words about testing hand-written on to the calendar. Whoever wrote it clearly did so with the best intentions. They wanted parents to know that this was the block of time kids could be tested in school. However, it really hit me just how big of an impact testing is having on our society.

  4. Our schools send out testing dates months in advance for families to plan doctors appointments around. In addition to avoiding the testing day, we must also be sure not to plan events the night before because students need to go to bed early and eat a healthy breakfast to assure they do their best. I am so sick of these tests as a teacher and a parent.

    1. I totally get it, Kristen. I’ve been there as a teacher. But now that I’m an independent consultant, I shake my head a little more and speak up a little louder. I understand the point of standardized testing. I just wholeheartedly disagree with it. Speaking just about elementary school (now), the amount of stress it puts on kids is insane. The amount of time it takes away from real instruction doesn’t make any sense. Kids would learn a lot more if they were engaged in authentic instruction, not test prep. (Let me stop there. I know I’m preaching to the choir.)

  5. I get it. There is much pressure of the school community to get kids there the day of the test-the reasons:

    **Make up testing is a pain

    **Schools are punished when kids don’t show for the test (at least in Ohio)-no takes count as zeros

    It’s insanity! I am not saying I agree with any of it, but once the testing window opens, if everyone takes it on the days they are supposed to, things run much smoother.

    I think it’s nice that the doctors office created an awareness so that the staff will not try to schedule appointments to accommodate kids schedules for those weeks. And maybe work them in after the school day or something like that if they need to see the doctor.

    I hope it’s not because they think more kids come down with illness during this time due to test anxiety.

    I am just not sure what this world is coming to…like we found out, the stakes of testing are getting even higher for us-50% of our yearly evaluations will now be based on student growth (on assessments).

    Holy Gacamole!

  6. Stacey your post and the observation you make highlights the perverse, and to my mind, hideous nature of high stakes testing. They have infiltrated so many areas of education and out into society. Real Estate agents use the results to influence sales and publishers prey on parental anxiety with test preparation materials. You found yourself on the horns of a dilemma as a parent and as an educator and this came through in your piece with your sighting on the calendar. Hmmm?

    1. I’ve gotta tell you, Alan, if my child truly needed to be seem and the first available appt was during testing, I’d book it. (And I’m not the kind of person who believes in skipping school on a whim since absence impacts everyone.)

  7. I wonder if the doctor’s office noted the testing to avoid last minute cancellations from parents and families? I wonder if it’s a business move on their part to avoid lost revenue or scheduling snafus?

  8. I find this more than a little surprising/disturbing. No, I would not schedule my child’s appointment with a specialist around standardized testing. It’s not that important. In fact, I’ve actually come to the conclusion that if I had it to do over again, I would opt my kids out of standardized testing. And yes, I know that has a negative impact on their schools. But if enough parents did it, maybe we could get this craziness stopped.

  9. What Amy said is true in my state as well. The school is punished if the child misses, so much emphasis is placed on attendance. Ours is only a week, though, not a whole month. I think it definitely speaks to how we have turned our focus away from the child and to the test. If our governor has his way, our paychecks and our jobs will be tied to the results. Frightening, isn’t it?

    1. I think tying student performance to teacher compensation is unfair. But hey, no one is asking me. I hope Gov. Jindal doesn’t get his way, Margaret. I know that would be incredibly frustrating and outraging to you and your colleagues.

  10. Actually, Stacey, I thought you were going to get to another point and that is that many kids have stomachaches and headaches during the testing period. So, it wouldn’t be about scheduling, perhaps, but maybe about an increase in stress-related symptoms.
    (Just another reason that high stakes testing is a disservice to children…)

    1. I didn’t want to go into a diatribe about that. And believe me, I could, Melanie. I had fifth graders throwing up in the bathroom and doubled-over with stomach cramps because of the pressure the school put on them. I hope those pains are erased from their memories now. That said, they’ll be etched in my mind until this madness ceases.

  11. I’m currently in PSSA anger mode – but right now it’s because of the waste of time “trainings” for the proctors. I am being insulted by the content of the trainings and about 3 hours of my time will – in total – be wasted by these trainings. HOW many times do I need to be told how many pencils to give? My personal favorite is about how I MUST ONLY “glance” at the tests as I “actively monitor” the testing..

    Seriously, these are little kids… this is a crock. Is this the SAT? LSAT? MCAT? Medical boards?

  12. Wow! Kind of scary. As a teacher we want students to have a good education. When you see test dates in the Drs office you understand why some teachers – teach to the test. Most of us have seen things change. Here is hoping that sooner than later we are able to get back to making the right choices for the right reasons.

  13. I would love it if I thought medical professionals were doing it to prompt families to have the same discussions as those put forth here – and to encourage families to take a stand – “Look what you are doing to my child, to my community! What a great headline: Testing Showing Up On Calendars – What the Heck??!!

  14. I guess I can see both sides but . . . your child and his/her health care trumps everything! I also think the bigger issue is that these “tests” determine a child’s future in some cases ie universities that will accept or not accept them but it’s only one part of the child! I feel for kids that just don’t test well . . . talk about a confidence buster!

  15. So the sick part of me is grateful that California is not the only crazy place! It makes me sad, but I am not surprised that testing is noted on a calendar like that. As a mom with two in college, I remember those days of do we miss school or make an appointment? For me being a teacher, it was a double whammy. In the end, I regret only those days we all struggled to attend school when we should have taken better care of our health. Tests come and go,and our health is forever. My kids aren’t any better for toughing it out on some days, they remember the declared pajama days fondly.

  16. WOW even our small town doesn’t take it that far! Maybe they’ve had so many cancellations in the past for those weeks they just decided to warn everyone ahead of time…or maybe the doctor is married to a teacher! Whichever seems a little silly…but who am I to say I think the whole testing MONTH is silly, especially when it trickles into my kiddos in first grade.

  17. I’m sorry, but I think it’s just weird. If my child is sick, they stay home, or see the doctor, testing or not. We’ve always scheduled physicals after school, so that does not enter the equation. So what’s the point of the annoucement? Weird!

  18. I actually just had a parent email about this very issue. We have our standardized tests this week and next. I had a parent ask if they should reschedule the orthodontist appointment that they have had scheduled for months. I don’t know what to say because like you said Stacey it is good to have all of the kids take the test together, but then again is it necessary to rearrange a schedule just for a test that we don’t use to really assess our students?

  19. Oh Brutha…. Sad. I get that we, as educators, alert parents. Funny thing? In my district, even with all of the information we put out about testing dates, vacations to warm, sunny places are still planned during those weeks. Doctors, dentists, and hair appointments still happen on those days. The population in our district must reflect a more national population… some people care, some do not, and some ride right along in the middle. I have kids who sleep 10 hours and have a mammoth breakfast, and others who play video games all night and don’t get fed. Will this EVER be a non-issue? I can only wish, I guess. I must say, however, one of my students looks forward to testing, simply because her Gramma takes her to the Original Pancake House every morning she has a test! haha – that’s a GREAT reason for her to be excited and motivated to rest well before a test! πŸ™‚

    1. Original Pancake House? Hmmm. Those chocolate chip pancakes are very motivating! πŸ˜‰

      I never understood (and still don’t) missing school for a vacation. Look, I’m from the extreme end of things. My parents took me out of school for a family wedding in CA, which came out at the end of May when I was in 4th grade. They told me “this is the first and last time we’re doing this.” You know what? It was. They never took me out of school on a vacation of any kind again. AND, I only missed four days of high school. So I realize I’m extreme when it comes to school attendance. That being said, the testing thing and a specialist appointment just didn’t mesh in my mind.

  20. This very issue entered my classroom in a tragic way this morning. I found out when I got to school that the father of one of my students died suddenly last night. As a shared what information I knew with her classmates, their first response was, “What about ISTEP? She’ll miss the test.” Despite the immense pressure our school us under to bring up those scores, I assured them that some things are bigger than ISTEP. In this case, supporting our classmate took priority. In the face of the death of a parent, ISTEP matters very little.

  21. Wow, that’s really interesting! I know that our school district encourages parents not to schedule medical appointments during testing week, so maybe your doctor’s office had heard similar feedback and wanted to help parents schedule around it. Kind of crazy though!

  22. Maybe they should block off the month of May for appointments that all teachers and parents will need from the stress and anxiety these tests cause us. While I do understand that sometimes appointments during the day is necessary and unavoidable, I do sometimes question if at times some of the appointments during the day are necessary. I was never pulled during instructional times as a child by my parents for appointments unless that was the only option available.

    Standardized tests are taking over and sadly I don’t see it getting any better.

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