Once upon a time, a very smart girl was taking her 4th grade ELA test (that's English Language Arts for those of you who have escaped the horror). The girl loved to read, and everyone thought she would perform outstandingly well, just as she had on the ELA test she'd been subjected to in 3rd grade.
What no one knew was that the very smart girl had been fuming for weeks about her curtailed reading time, and her shortened read alouds—all in the name of test prep.
But, the Board of Education insisted on test prep. And so the teachers reluctantly did test prep. They were beginning to worry that their careers might depend on these tests results. They were right to worry.
The day of the test came, and the children lined up in neat silent rows. And the teacher handed out the test. The children dutifully lowered their heads and began to work. They filled in oval after oval, they read stupid passage after stupid passage. And then the smart little girl got to the stupidest passage of all. And she just…stopped. She looked at the passage, a story about a squirrel, and something in her rebelled. The passage was insipid. The questions were foolish. She wanted only one thing—to read. And so she reached into her desk and pulled out a book and she read.
Of course, all hell broke loose. The child on the other side said, "Hey! You're not allowed to read!" The teacher strode towards the little girl, plucked the book from her hand, put it back in the desk and turned the desk around so the child couldn't do it again. But not before the state test proctor, who'd been passing by in the hallway, darted in.
Hissed whispers between the teacher and the proctor. The proctor insisted that the child be reported for cheating. The teacher, who knew the little girl, promised that it was not a case of cheating. Back and forth they went, until somehow the teacher prevailed. The child was told to resume the test.
But she refused.
The teacher, knowing the importance the middle schools would place on this test, tried with her eyes to convince the child to resume the test. She wasn't allowed to speak, of course, because that would have been cheating.
The child refused.
Instead she crossed her arms in front of her. And she just sat there. Eventually it started to snow, and she gazed outside at the giant flakes and watched them fall.
And she didn't do a single other question on the test.
When the test was over, the children filed out, all except for the girl. The teacher asked her to stay. "Why did you do that?"
The child set her jaw. She hunkered down. "That test was an insult to my intelligence."
The teacher sighed. She'd read the passage. It was, indeed, an insult to the intelligence of all the children who had taken it. But that wasn't the point. "I realize you don't like the tests. But there are going to be lots of things in this world that you don't like, and sometimes you just have to suck it up. You're smart, but you still have to do what you have to do. It's part of life." And the little girl grudgingly nodded.
That year the little girl did worse on her ELA test than she had the year before, no doubt giving her teacher a terrible rating in the moronic New York City teacher ratings, currently posted for the world to see in New York Times. Because those ratings are based on how the child does on these tests from one year to the next. And they are a textbook exercise in stupidity and wastefulness.
That one-on-one talk the teacher had with that little girl about how sometimes you have to suck it up and just do what you need to do? There was more good teaching in that one moment than in all the years of test prep the little girl has been subject to, before and since. And that teacher is the same one who instilled in her students a love of reading so strong and deep that there were many moments of absolute enthralled silence in that classroom.
Now, class, I have a few questions for you about the passage you just read:
Does anyone know how much it costs to write these tests? Print them? Administer them? Grade them? Millions, right? And can anyone tell me why the hell is that money going to this crap instead of to my kids foreign language program (may it rest in peace)? My children's art programs (RIP)? My children's libraries?