Those Stupid Tests (What Do You Think—Is That Too Biased?)

Tis the season, again. The season for standardized testing. Ugh, ugh, and double ugh. Chestnut is in the crosshairs, because she's in 7th grade, and naturally, what you're doing academically in 7th grade should determine the course of the rest of your life. That's just obvious, isn't it?

Because here, in NYC—well, here's how I put it to Chestnut's friend who visited over February break.

Chestnut: THE TESTS are coming up.

Chestnut's Friend: Ugh!

Me: Double ugh!

CF: Well, at least they're just to judge the teachers* so we don't have to worry about them too much.

Me: Um, yeah, except, er, um…

C and CF: look at me questioningly

Me: Well, actually, in New York City they are part of what determines which high school you get into…

CF: blank look

C: look of grim despair

Me: …so they sort of do count. Chestnut's friend still looks confused. Oh, yeah, you have to actually apply to get into high school in New York City.

And so, it is time for me to remember (and remind you) that there are voices in the wilderness.

Voice 1: Kate Messner. I saw her speak on failure at SCBWI conference, and she was really pretty amazing, and part of what she talked about was how paralyzing the fear of failure is, and how it's being pushed earlier and earler in our culture, and standardized tests are a big part of that, with their insistence on one right answer, right away. Failure lurks in all the others, it's the way it works.

Voice 2:


Major caveat: I have not read this. But! I read the first page, and it's the I.P.T.U. test (say it aloud with me now) and that's enough for me.

Voice 3: These ladies. Go read it. The whole idea of saying to a kindergartener "I can't help you with that" really hit me hard.

OK, so there you go. That's my semi-annual testing rant. Here's hoping you and yours are engaged in something completely other right now.

*Incidentally: WTF? I mean, I know this is how parents and schools try to lessen student anxiety, but can we talk sometime about what it means for a kid to have his/her teacher's credibility/autonomy/judgment undermined like that?

5 thoughts on “Those Stupid Tests (What Do You Think—Is That Too Biased?)

  1. I know you are not looking to do MORE testing, but have you looked into Duke TIP for Chestnut? It does require 7th graders to take the SAT/ACT but can open up all kinds of great opportunities (like summer programs, etc.) – with like-minded kids they may not encounter much in their regular schools. I hate all the standardized testing in schools – but this is one place where it did my daughter a world of good (and it wasn’t actually through the school – *I* instigated it, sigh. :-/). Just a thought…


  2. Aha! The Duke TIP must be why my daughter’s 7th grade classmate was always “studying SAT words” this fall/winter and could not go ice skating, or to the movies, or or or.
    Look, I was a nerdy kid and loved studying vocabulary, looked forward to demonstrating my prowess on tests, etc. But this is madness. If, despite all the research that demonstrates that the SAT can be gamed (for the right combo of money and time), programs still insist on using it to figure out ANYTHING other than whether the kids are good at taking that particular test*–well, that’s a program that I think needs to be a bit less lazy and a bit more honest about its selection process.
    Fortunately, there are TONS of wonderful summer programs and other opportunities that do not use this dubious method of screening. Or, Chestnut might just want to forgo all of them to flop around the house reading and driving her parents crazy–who knows?
    *As demonstration of this point, check out this by the New Yorker’s talented Elizabeth Kolbert:


  3. OK, I got carried away when I read the comment suggesting subjecting Chestnut to even more testing, but what I really wanted to say was KINDERGARTNERS???!!!! Oh My God. And did you read the comments? How can anybody who is an adult, who therefore knows that the way that we get ahead is by asking questions, by receiving (and offering) help and clarification, by locating and teasing out nuance, and on and on–why do these people feel that children should be subjected to some more rigid and inflexible standard?
    This isn’t new to me, but for some reason today it is just too, too much. That said, increasing numbers of parents (and teachers) are starting to question and opt out of this insanity. Will it make a difference? Corporate ed reform, with its mantra of high-stakes testing, seems to be the one common ground of both Democrats and Republicans. Indeed, the same deep-pocketed donors who bankroll campaigns push the “reform” agenda.
    Rant over. 🙂


  4. Here is my story of the week:
    I went to my 10-year-old’s conference. She is in 4th grade. She is graded 1-4, 4 being above grade level. She is required to read accelerated reader books that are 6.0 and above, because that is her “level.” On her report card she got a 3 in comprehension, and a 4 in fluency. So I asked the teacher about that. She told me that there is an independent “tester” that comes in for one day and the child reads a text to that person and that person grades the reading on a rubric. And THAT is the grade that goes on the report card.
    How asinine is that? UGH.
    When did teachers lose all of their credibility? Why have we allowed that to happen?


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