My kids have attended school their entire lives under No Child Left Behind, and more recently the Common Core. They are now in 7th and 9th grade. Each spring they undergo a barrage of preparation and testing assessments. It is easy for a young person to equate these measures of academic ability with a measure of their value as a human being.
I’ve seen it in my own kids. They encounter a baffling question in homework or a practice test, and they feel dumb. If I happen to be there when these questions come up, I don’t feel dumb and I don’t think they should either. I know better. Sometimes the questions are way off base. They are ill-conceived or even just plain wrong. They simply don’t measure what they purport to measure.
Today I read an article by Sarah Holbrook, a writer and poet whose work was used on a standardized reading test, and she couldn’t answer the questions about her own work. Why couldn’t she answer the questions? Because, she says,
These test questions were just made up, and tragically, incomprehensibly, kids’ futures and the evaluations of their teachers will be based on their ability to guess the so-called correct answer to made up questions.
How is this kind of testing fair to kids and their teachers? I’ve tried to teach my kids not to put too much weight into this stuff. I teach them coping mechanisms. I teach them to simply do the best they know how to do and to not worry about individual questions that are troubling. I tell them the tests are composed by semi-literate monkeys and they shouldn’t worry what the monkeys think. I tell them if they don’t know the answer, just say “potato.” Or on a multiple choice test, they can use the four finger test by slapping four fingers on the desk, and whichever finger hurts the most denotes an A, B, C or D for the answer.
Mostly we just joke around about it and I tell them not to worry too much about the tests. But they still worry. I think it’s sad that kids go through their entire education with this cloud of this testing hanging over them. And I have to wonder if this testing environment isn’t at least in part to blame for my college students’ obsession with getting the “right” answer, instead of having a curious mind willing to ask questions and think deeply?
If I had a magic wand, I would wave it and compulsory standardized testing would stop. We would respect teaching as a profession. Educators would be responsible for the assessment of their pupils, not for-profit businesses who put the bottom line ahead of kids.