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What I will never tell the guys about state testing

Submitted by on Tuesday, 12 April 2011 No Comment

The guys go to a school that ends at second grade, though the weight of the entire student body has been thrown behind this week’s state testing.

The kindergarteners made posters supporting the second graders – Big Guy even magnanimously thanked Boots. “I saw the one  your class did. It was real nice. We appreciate it,” he said.

The first-graders wrote supportive notes on colorful index cards that were delivered to all second-graders. “No matter what try your best on the test,” Frank’s message exhorted Big Guy.

Yet, despite the schoolwide pep rally and even though I might say all the right things – “Use your good brain today, Big Guy, and you’ll be fine.” – I just can’t be happy about this.

To the contrary, I wanted to weep this morning as I watched him trundle toward the bus that would take him to the end of his childhood. Days of graying in circles. Mornings of sitting  from 8:15 to 11. No unescorted bathroom trips, in case Michelle Rhee’s hiding in there with a eraser. A week of stuff that my butt and brain had trouble enduring at age 17, yet he’s being asked to handle at 7.

It’s unnecessary, both in terms of time and money. It’s annihilated art and sucked science out of the classroom. It’s used to bludgeon teachers and administrators and to wrongly label Big Guy and his peers as the dumbest generation ever.

Clearly, it’s the most-tested generation ever. Big Guy actually got off easy in kindergarten. The closest he came to a standardized test was that district’s drill-and-kill emphasis on DIBELS. Boots already grays in circles. Sort of. His teacher reminded him recently that he has to keep the circle neat or the computer won’t be able to read his answer. In kindergarten, she’s allowed to fix it. That won’t be the case by this time next year.

There are quarterly reading assessments and district bench marks during which Boots already knows how to conduct himself. “We didn’t use privacy boards on this paper,” he said, pointing to several pages of addition equations and then reeling off a  list of names of classmates who had copied off others. “If the test is important, we use the privacy boards.”

It cracks me up when politicians tout year-end second-grade testing – there had been some talk a few years ago about eliminating California’s program for kids that young – as “the gateway to academic achievement.” If we don’t do it, we won’t know which kids are falling behind, testing advocates say.

Note to Sen. Hasn’t Been in a Classroom This Century: Teachers know. Kids know. Parents know. We didn’t need to chain a child to a desk for a week to find out.

The heck of it is, I want Big Guy to do well, not so much for his sake, but for his teacher’s. Although I’ve loved every teacher Big Guy’s had, his current one is perfect teacher for this point in his life.

She scared me at first, because she reminded me of my own second-grade teacher who scared me for an entire year. Big Guy spent the first few months complaining that she was mean.

“By that you mean that she’s telling you to stop goofing off and focus on what you’re supposed to learn?” I asked him.

“Yeah. She’s mean.”

“It sounds to me like she’s doing her job.”

By Christmas, Big Guy was conceding that point. “She focuses on academics a lot, and that’s good,” he said. “I think she’s the best second-grade teacher at our school.”

She’s old school, so she’s been around the block a few thousand times with kids exactly like him. She realizes there’s more to him than the kid who takes some measure of pride in his incessant chatter and goofiness. She has done the absolute best anyone could with a boy who’s bright but still on the flighty side.

She and I have talked to him about that, and she summed it up perfectly. “It’s going to be your choice one of these days. You’re smart. You have to decide whether to use that brain.”

I’ll probably look at the test results when they arrive late this summer, but as far as I’m concerned we already have a complete assessment of where Big Guy is and where he could be. There’s nothing more I need to know.

But I won’t tell Big Guy that. I’d hate for him to spend the rest of the week with his head orbiting Jupiter and have that result reflect poorly on a great teacher who has done her level best with a challenging student.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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