Our cupcakes runneth over: Too many end-of-the-year school parties

Do all the end-of-the-year parties and ceremonies undermine testing? (AJC File)

In a high school class this week, my son’s teacher allowed students to thrash out whether there should be one last graded assignment and, if so, should it be a test or Socratic seminar.

A few students opposed both ideas; they didn’t want additional work when they still faced 44 hours of studying and testing. (The students tallied up the remaining Georgia Milestones, SLOs and finals, estimating two to three hours of studying per exam, said my son, who voted for the test option. The class went with the seminar.)

I was surprised to learn how much testing remains in some high schools, considering all the Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and classroom tests students already took. But my concern here isn’t whether too much testing goes on in schools. (There are duplicative tests that could be eliminated.) Rather, I have been mulling the conditions under which schools have to give these tests — amid a frenzy of end-of-the-year events, often parent driven.

Many of us set our oven to 350 degrees in early May to bake muffins for the teacher appreciation breakfast and keep it hot until the last batch of brownies comes out for the final-day-of-school party.

Schools are caught between two colliding trends: The first is fanfare for even the mundane; the Wall Street Journal once described it as “ceremony inflation, making nearly every life passage from preschool graduation to post-graduate exams the focal point of festivities.”

The second trend is the rise of tests that carry real consequences for students and schools. To prevent high school students from blowing off state end-of-course tests, scores now count for 20 percent of final grades in Georgia.

But, at the same time we’ve made tests a pivotal factor in student grades, teacher evaluations and college admissions, we’ve crammed the testing season with concerts, parties, banquets and performances. Today, for example, students at my local high school went from Milestones exams to a spirit rally to a powder puff football game — despite the fact many of them have state tests Thursday.

When South Korean high school students sit for their all-important college admissions test, the government grounds planes or reroutes them as not to disturb testing. Police clear roads to escort latecomers to their tests, and the months leading up to test are spent in review and practice.

While I would not recommend the over-stressed South Korean model, Georgia reflects the opposite extreme. Student athletes statewide had to skip AP and IB exams because championship games were scheduled during testing days. In some cases, students gave up the honor of earning a prestigious IB diploma and college credits because the IB tests they had to miss for the triple jump can’t be rescheduled.

In talking to educators from other countries, they express both admiration and doubts about all the other “stuff” American schools have embraced, from proms and sports teams to driver’s ed and Broadway-style musicals. If families in their countries want those enriching experiences for their offspring, they provide them, not the schools.

I recently talked to a French education researcher who said the American model appeals to her because all children can access these extras, not just affluent kids. But there’s a downside.

All of these extras now are expected, and some parents value them as much, if not more, than the academics. I suspect a school that advised parents to plan fewer parties and recognition ceremonies would be condemned as drill-and-kill and mirthless.

Put to a vote, those parents would probably say, “Keep the cupcakes coming.”

 

Reader Comments 1

11 comments
xxxzzz
xxxzzz

In my days, the last 6 weeks didn't even count for class average, so all the seniors slacked off.  I guess instead of 6 weeks to slack off their senior year, everybody gets 3 weeks every year 3rd to 11th after the standardized tests are done to watch movies.  Sounds more like the senior year of college where it is awfully hard to fit in any celebrations around tests, term papers, professional exams and getting ready to go to work.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

Not sure why but this reader comment will not post -- keeps ending up in pending. So, I am posting for reader:


Liz: I remember my younger son’s last few weeks in high school. I needed to be medicated. This was after AP exams had sucked the life out of us, and there were projects or papers due every day, orchestra rehearsal for the musical until nine o’clock every night, a shifting exam schedule to remember, a senior party during the school day, awards ceremony, pick up times for cap and gown and yearbook, turn-in of school-owned technology. I considered surrender and wondered if he REALLY needed to graduate from high school! Interestingly enough, college is no different, except I don’t have to be there to know what is going on (God be praised).

AngieSS
AngieSS

Lots of banquets too for every organization and activity. Awards night followed by final exams the next morning. May is exhausting.

Meg Conley
Meg Conley

It's sad to me that people want to strip k-12 down to an efficient business-like atmosphere. If anything, the overwhelming testing is the problem that needs to be looked at. Our children are going to have many more years in the adult world than in the child world. I grow tired of the comparisons to other countries - while there are problems in our education system that most definitely need remedy, why is the answer to look at places with wholly different economies, politics, and spirit than ourselves? I've taught at both the k-12 and college levels, and what I saw at the college level was not kids who expected parties and cupcakes, but rather students who developed extreme anxiety about performance. "What's my grade/score?" was the focus. I don't agree that stripping the creative and fun elements from education is going to ease that anxiety or give us creative and pleasant future citizens/workers. There is more to life, in this country, than being a cog in the system of production. This letter was a dour example of politics I'll go without mentioning by name.

denniscbrown
denniscbrown

Amen to the above, Maureen. Especially your last comment regarding schools being condemned if they even suggested a downsizing of the end-of-the-year celebratory activities. But with a big sigh I say what goes around comes around. This celebration activity is not a phenomenon. It's simply a sign of the times and part of our second and third generation of a society where immediate gratification is the norm and expected.  And we are now seeing the results through diminished motivation, expectations of gov't support, and a government that insists that adding bennies to the already back-breaking amount of tax monies being spent to "those less fortunate" and undocumented immigrants is the "American way." 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Many elementary schools have done the opposite--they allow only 2 or 3 parties per year.

Astropig
Astropig

My nephew graduates Saturday up in the hills of East Tennessee...He's told me lately that the biggest challenge that his teachers have is keeping some semblance of order and decorum as the senior class is straining at the leash to finally be set free.A lot of these kids pretty much live on Mountain Dew and Doritos,so cupcakes don't really ring their chimes anymore.


As far as testing,I guess that the testing regime is different up there,but he says its no big hairy deal.He's a good student and says that they've been doing it for so long that it's just part of their rhythm of learning. He certainly doesn't seem stressed out about it.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Astropig I read your comment and went to the Department of Education site in Tennessee to testing and this is what is there right now: 

Annual assessments play a key role in the teaching and learning process, and they are critical to ensure that all students are meeting higher standards and are making progress on their path to postsecondary and the workforce. TNReady, the new TCAP for math and English language arts, was designed to provide Tennessee students, teachers, and families with better information about what students know and understand.

 While the law requires annual state testing, we find ourselves in an unusual and unique circumstance due to the inability of our testing vendor, Measurement Incorporated, to deliver a reliable testing platform. Effective immediately, the state is terminating the assessment contract with Measurement Incorporated. 

High school testing will continue as planned, but the department is suspending TNReady Part II TCAP testing for grades 3–8. If districts have received materials for a complete grade or subject in grades 3-8 (i.e. fifth-grade math), they will have the option to administer that specific grade or subject level; however, the department will only be able to deliver limited student performance information for these particular grades and subjects. Please contact your district to see if this option applies to your child’s school. High school tests will be fully scored, and these results will be delivered later this fall. 

Terminating our contract with MI was a challenging decision because we’ve been working to honor the effort and investment of Tennessee teachers and students. The failure of this vendor has let us all down, especially the hard working teachers and students of our state. The department is currently working with the state’s Central Procurement Office to expedite the selection of a vendor for both the scoring of this year’s high school assessment and the development of next year’s test. 

 The department has also been in close contact with the United States Department of Education to ensure that Tennessee is in compliance with federal requirements. Additional information will be shared as soon as possible. In the meantime, please reference this FAQ document, which provides detailed information about how this announcement will impact our teachers, schools, and districts. Resources: - See more at: https://www.tn.gov/education/section/assessment#sthash.pcUFzovd.dpuf

Legong
Legong

The Obama daughters don't take as many tests in their private school. 

How about we give parents tuition vouchers -- allowing them to likewise choose the school which best meets their child's needs?

And you to write about something other than tests.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

I thought you were in Decatur?  No food Nazis trying to ban cupcakes?!

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@xxxzzz No, In fact, one of my kids got her braces off today and came home with bag of candy instead of kale.