This upcoming Monday begins the big round of testing here. Despite doing everything in my powers to assuage their fears, you can always see just a little bit (or a lot) of terror in the eyes of third graders as they walk into school that first testing day. Unlike fourth and fifth graders who have at least experienced this whole circus before, third graders are experiencing the whole thing for the first time. Their sweet, friendly teacher is now forced to go into robot mode where all she can say is “Sorry, I can’t help you with that. Just try your best.”, the room looks stark and uninviting, and the test packet begins to look more like a paperback copy of Moby Dick in their terrified eyes.
As they sit down on Monday to begin this process, I wish I could hug them and help them and support them. There are so many things “not in the script” that I wish I could say. These are just a few:
1) This is incredibly unfair to you, and I am sorry. Every year there is some poor sweet child in the bathroom throwing up out of sheer fear of this assessment. No matter how hard we try to take the pressure off, there are outside forces pushing it right back down their throats. There is no lawmaker standing there on testing day seeing the terror and anxiety. No government representative holding back the hair of the little girl in the bathroom who is so worried that she can’t keep her breakfast in. The only one there is her teacher who does her best to calm those fears, have the nurse clean her up, and then hands her the giant test anyways. I get that schools need to be accountable. I am all for that. However, I am not so sure we need to be stressing out 8-year old kids in the process. We talk about wanting to improve education, but what good does this process do if we are creating a generation of broken, anxious adults?
2) No matter what, I still think you are amazing and bound to do great things. One of the most common questions I get in the days leading up to the test is, “What happens if I don’t pass…do I have to do third grade again?” I answer it least a half dozen times, and it still wears on their minds. Every year we have the discussion early in the year about failure being a learning opportunity, but let’s be honest, when it comes to testing, this just isn’t the case. They don’t get to review their mistakes and learn from them. Instead, they get the shame of being a “failure” and days upon days spent working in their area of difficulty. Talk about a broken system. This is it. If you want to increase graduation rates and send more kids to college, they need to love school and learning. I’m trying really hard to do that in the classroom, lawmakers. Quit killing my momentum.
3) The answer is C. This one test is not worth all those tears of frustration…take a deep breath, bubble in C and move on with the rest of your life. Every single year, at least one student ends up in tears mid-test. It is always that one sweet, sensitive little kiddo who I have spent ALL. YEAR. LONG. building up his confidence. He has come so far…and he is so ready. That is until that super wordy, totally confusing question comes along and throws a wrench in the whole thing. He tries it once, but none of the answers match. He erases vigorously and attacks it again. By the third time you can see the frustration. You wish he could just move on and come back…but that isn’t in his nature. He wants to do it right. By the fourth time he does it, you can see the tears welling up, but what can you do? The test manual doesn’t give you a prompt for this. There isn’t a go-to catch phrase designed to support your students through the stress and frustration of testing. Technically, you aren’t even supposed to go bend down by him and ask if he needs a break….or a tissue. It is always that moment you wish that the lawmakers and testing companies and everyone else could remember these are just kids.
As the district officials peruse the scores and the state determines our accountability rating, it is so hard to think about the fact that to them all of these kids are just a number…a score taken from a single day of their lives. It doesn’t reflect the fact that Johnny is an amazing artist and can, at eight, draw better than most adults I know. It doesn’t reflect that Sophia’s grandmother died the week before the test or that Adam was removed from his home two weeks before or that Monica is waiting on surgery for her brain tumor. How many of us come in at our peak every day?
It doesn’t reflect the fact that in real life the skills that matter most aren’t just paper-based. (I’ve known a lot of smart people who could ace a test but were total jerks.) I know I am not alone in wondering how the system ended up so broken.