I am one of the few lucky people who doesn’t mind taking a test. Multiple choice bubbles may be boring but they have no emotional pull over me. I fondly recall the ITBS (Iowa Tests of Basic Skills) from my days at Sand Lake Elementary School.
Clearly, those days are long gone—standardized testing is taking over the world. I can say this because it is true. Like a creeping vine that seems attractive and charming at first, tests appear to be reasonable for the data and direction they can provide.
The benchmark assessments test each quarter from our school district. OK, sure, I want teachers to see what is working and what isn’t. Then there are the state-mandated tests, the old version and the new version. Then we have the nationally normed tests that are basically just to see how smart or unsmart my kids are compared to every other kid also suffering through a similar experience on one specific day. These are good for ranking the school; I could not care one drop about how my kids perform. But I love their school and want it to look impressive, so I try to be supportive.
Besides giving bar graph fanatics more chances to see tiny lines with numbers, I’m not sure of the actual usefulness of standardized testing. I already know I live in a state with high poverty, where many children are learning English, where we believe teachers should work for a pittance out of the goodness of their hearts. I also know, without any long-winded test passages, that my kids perform well on such tests. This is the life benefit of having two parents with graduate degrees and assorted privileges.
All this is common knowledge, a battle raging around the country. Something I don’t expect the new secretary of education, John King Jr., to solve. But this year, with my oldest child in fourth grade, things got personal.
2015 was a banner year for our very own fourth-grade teacher—her class got the highest score in the whole state on the science exam. For a new, science-focused school, this was a big deal. My son wasn’t in her class for that round, but he is now. If you thought the general pressure for excellence was bad, I can only imagine how this teacher feels this year. There’s virtually no way to follow up on a stellar showing of Best in Show. I feel for her.
But my kid is dying. He is very smart (and not just in my opinion). He also saves his obnoxiousness for me (#soblessed), so he’s remarkably well behaved for a tween boy. But he’s gotten himself all in a tizzy over this damn test: studying, crying, not sleeping, needing back rubs, talking and talking and talking about it. Not cool.
I don’t want to contradict what the elementary school teachers say. There’s enough time in life to find out that nothing is black and white and that you have to figure stuff out on your own. I cautiously remind my boy that if you work hard every day, you don’t need to worry about the test. It’s a small comfort when he spends six to seven hours a day in a little classroom, being taught that this is the most important thing ever.
I have no answers. I can keep my kids home on test days, but that doesn’t help with the endless time spent preparing or the attitude pervading the air.
All I know is that this isn’t how anyone learns best.
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