Quotes from the front line.

My fifth graders are in the middle of our annual state testing.  Here in beautiful Massachusetts, our kids are tested in reading and writing (in April), math, and science/technology (in early May).

If you know anything about high stakes testing, you know that this means that the month of April is completely taken up with preparing for tests, taking tests, and preparing for more tests. We have to review previously learned skills, teach and practice test taking strategies, and review all of the science and math facts that we have learned in the past six years.  We enjoy lovely days filled with inspirational comments like, “Don’t for get to punctuate! capitalize! Remember those math facts! Use the science vocabulary!!  We get out highlighters and find those pesky key words (more than, total, compare….).  We eliminate the answers that make no sense (“No, honey, you can’t eliminate them all.”) and we practice taking wild guesses because, let’s be honest, nobody is going to remember every little science fact from kindergarten. I mean, come on, what do you really learn about the habitats of polar bears when your brain is totally focused on getting home to hug your Mommy?

I have pretty strong feelings about the huge amount of time that is lost to all this testing, but the purpose of this post is to share the views of the kids as they experience it. Now, I want to be honest; most of my upper middle class, well fed, well rested students told me today that the first part of our math testing was “pretty easy”.  But they asked some very good questions, and made some truly poignant observations.  Let me show you what I mean.  Here is a sampling of conversations from Room 303 in the past week.

“Can you tell me what the question means? I know you can’t give me the answer, but can you tell me what they are asking?”

(Me: “I’m sorry, honey, I can’t tell you that.  Make your best guess.”)

“On this one, do they want me to just write down the number for the answer, or do they want the whole number sentence?”

(Me: “I’m sorry, honey, I can’t tell you that.  Make your best guess.”)

“If I get the right answer, but I use the wrong form, will they mark it wrong?  Why would they do that, if they want to see if I know how to do the math?”

 (Me: “I’m sorry, honey. I have no idea.”)

“A histogram is the same as a bar graph, right?”

(Me: “I’m sorry, honey, I can’t tell you that.  Make your best guess.”)

“If they want to know what we learned in fifth grade, why are they testing us in April, when we still have 8 weeks of school?”

(Me: “I don’t know.”)

And my personal favorite:

“Do we still have to learn math now that the test is over?”

Sorry, but you can’t tell me that this stupid test doesn’t squash intellectual curiosity, dampen educational enthusiasm and basically suck the joy out of the elementary school day.  Between you and me, the worst thing I can ever say to a student is this:

“I’m sorry honey, I can’t tell you that.”

What the hell are we doing?!


8 responses to this post.

  1. My son takes his end of grades test next week, first big test. He has been stressed about it since last year when they started practice tests. Now that the time is upon him, he has been waking up at 5 a.m. every day and going to bed late. I know he won’t do his best because he rushes, he doesn’t always read directions well, and he does much better if he goes through and reads things again a second time, in which case he says, “Oh!” and gets the answer right. He is a very smart kid, but he simply doesn’t test well. What is this going to do to him? And when I read the questions for the practice tests they’ve been doing, I get so mad at how tricky they are. I think it’s a bunch of nonsense.


    • And I think that you are remarkably kind…I think its a bunch of bullshit!
      The worst thing is that I can’t answer their simple questions; that makes me scream!
      Tell your son that “smart” has lots of meanings, and very few of them have anything to do with paper and pencil tasks.


      • It’s so aggravating for a mom who watches her son figure out math in his head that is beyond what he does in class, things he applies to the real world, but then such importance is placed on these tests. And I was the same as him. Don’t even talk to me about SATs!

  2. Posted by Lisa Williams on May 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    I COMPLETELY agree with you! I wrote about this a couple weeks ago on my blog and it was always a thorn in my side to even think about these tests… let alone watch my kids go through the agony of taking them. I am not in the classroom now, but provide professional development to teachers on interactive technology so I still hear the horror stories. 😦 I taught in MI and our test was in October… that’s even better right? Sure, the first month of school is spent on preparing for the test instead of, let’s say, getting to know your kids? And, even better yet is the fact they have had the whole summer to remember everything they learned. Surely the brightest bulb in the box thought that one out. 🙂 I was never one to succumb to all the anxiety, preparation, anxiety, reviewing, anxiety… you understand. Well written post… I love the comments, and especially yours… 😉


  3. Posted by Lisa Williams on May 19, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Reblogged this on Lisa Williams ~ Lessons from the Classroom and commented:
    Just another post on state testing… teachers are underestimated by “those who think they know better”. Nice post!


    • Thanks for reblogging. I wish so much we get this out there more so that people could see just how damaging these damn tests really are.


      • Posted by Lisa Williams on May 27, 2012 at 10:06 am

        I agree! It is disturbing to think so many teachers and students are put through this each year. 😦 During my time in the classroom it was a struggle for me to take the emphasis off the test, but I did. For me it was more about the whole learning process and the continuation of their learning… far beyond my classroom. 🙂

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