Stop me if you’ve heard this one: I’m filling out my son’s next Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) that’s due when he turns three, and I’m freaking out, convinced that the responses I add today will tragically cripple the rest of his academic life and chances at future success. Naturally, I’m picturing his high school graduation speech, where he’ll go into great detail about all of the ways my parenting choices held him back, and he’ll pontificate on his own achievements, proud that he overcame all the setbacks my decisions created for him.
So I call the pediatrician’s office and ask about how to best help him prepare for the ASQ; after all, I want him to do well on it. And I can sense some hesitation from the nurse as she calmly explains to me that the ASQ isn’t something you prepare for, and that the purpose of a good growth measure is to help kids get the help they need, and not to help them pass, so it needs to be an accurate reflection of their abilities. She goes on to say that we’ll continue to use the ASQ as a growth measure to compare results, and eventually he’ll transition to a growth measure for older kids.
“Ideally,” she goes on, “You could use one measurement for all of his years in school, so you’d always be able to support specific needs over time, but we’re not quite there yet.”
I can’t help but smile, because I’ve been connected to NWEA and MAP Growth in various ways since 2005—and during my time working with partner school districts, I had similar conversations, trying to help others see that you can’t really study for a MAP Growth assessment. I laugh because when she wistfully said, ‘We’re not quite there yet,’ I wanted to correct her—”MAP Growth has an equal-interval scale, and there are assessments from K-12!” I wanted to tell her—but more to the point, I’m relieved.
Relieved, because up until that moment, I hadn’t really realized how grateful I am for MAP Growth and the educators who use it. Grateful for the people who live in the world of standardized milestones like 3rd-grade reading proficiency, and remain dedicated to not just teaching kids the same things year after year, but helping each of them where they need it. “Whatever happens,” I remind myself, “We’ll make sure to get him connected to MAP Growth, so I can help him with whatever he needs, regardless of grade level. Doesn’t matter if he struggles, or he’s a genius; the approach will be the same.”
I take a deep breath, and start answering the questions again. Is he able to put a shirt on by himself? Are you kidding me? He insists on doing it himself, and gets upset if we try to help him. Is he able to use safety scissors to cut construction paper? No, because we’re not monsters who give toddlers scissors to play with. Can he point to a picture of himself and say his own name? He’s a millennial; of course his selfie game is on point. Can he kick a ball? I wouldn’t know, because in our family, we realize that most sports are silly. Can he string beads? We’ve seen videos from daycare, so we know he can do it—but if either of us asks him to, he pretends like he’s never seen a bead before in his life.
I filled out the bubbles honestly.
That’s a big deal for me, because I’m no longer worried about what will happen as a result of my answers. He’s a kid, so that means he’s going to be ahead in some areas, behind in others, and my wife and I are going to help him grow at the pace he’s going to grow—because the timetable was never up to us in the first place.
That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to sweat the milestones, though. We’ll track all of the benchmarks, from 3rd-grade reading proficiency through the ACT or SAT (or whatever test kids are taking on SnapChat to get into college in the future). Standardized measures and benchmarks have their place, and they can be truly useful—and at the same time, the mindset has changed for both my wife and I. We’ll use the standardized measurements as signposts—but not finish lines.
Our mindset is now just to focus on helping him achieve his goals, whatever they may be. In the meantime, we’re just going to thank our stars that we live in an era where we can do that. And we’re going to thank our stars for the teachers who will use all the data they get—and I know, it’s a lot—to help our son grow.