Friday, February 15, 2008


Our nation has committed that no child will be left behind. Our schools have committed to proficiency for all. Our teachers are committed to student achievement.

Our measure for success?

Standardized testing.

I get it.

I know that we need to be sure that we have a way to verify the success of our methods; to be sure that standards are being met. I just wish there was a different way other than one size fits all tests.

Mastery tests are issued in elementary school and middle school to assess progress along the learning journey and to warm them up for SATs. SATs are issued to test a child’s general knowledge and become his benchmark for a successful future. These tests are intended to provide an accurate and consistent measurement of learning.

I worry about the one size fits all method of testing.

I worry about the child whose brilliance is written in musical notes or stroked with a paint brush rather than a number two pencil.

I worry about the child who locks it up when faced with the silence of the testing room; whose knowledge is strong, but thrown back behind a wall of anxiety.

I worry about the child, who is choked by the stop watch; who can compute with accuracy, but just not as fast as the “standard” child.

I worry about the child whose ideas are bigger than the test.

The writing prompt reads: You are on your way to school and you find a magic key. Tell what you do next and what the key opens.

The directions remind the child to “Think, Plan, Write, Read, Edit and Revise.” Write your opening paragraph on Tuesday night (at least 5-6 sentences) for the beginning of your story and bring back to school tomorrow. This should take 15-20 minutes. Write the middle of your story on Wednesday night (at least 5-6 sentences) and the end of your story on Thursday night (at least 5-6 sentences.)

“Hmmm.” Cadence ponders, serious expression, pencil rolling between her fingers. Her tight lips begin to widen until a slow spreading smile creases her face. One eyebrow raises as she announces, “I’ve got it!” She begins to write as fast as she can to get out the opening sentence or two, and then ponders some more. This process continues and she pauses to share her idea.

“How does this sound?” she asks, laying out her plot in hurried words and I begin to worry about how she will ever get it all written. Her imagination races forward like a freight train, unable to stop.

“It sounds so exciting!” I tell her. “Let’s see if you can get a little more down on paper.”

She writes quickly, her brain faster than her fingers and she tries phrases out loud until she plucks just the right word from her highly charged orbit. She fills the page and re-reads, making revisions, finally satisfied with her opening. It has been thirty minutes.

Night two is much of the same and I realize that the story inside of her will not fit into the next two evenings. I suggest that since she has it all written in her head, perhaps I should see if we could get an extension on the assignment. The next morning, I send a note to her teacher explaining the exciting creative process I have witnessed and request that she have the weekend to finish.

My answer comes on cheerful yellow paper, exclamation marks with smiley faces beneath. “If Cadence likes this particular prompt, certainly she can have the weekend to continue, however most should be completed in 45 minutes.”

I think of the writers I know who have taken a year, or perhaps five, to get their story to the ending. I think about trying to tell my daughter that while her story is good, she needs to cut it in half and get to the point. Wrap it up. Dissect it into three clear sections and focus on a conclusion before the timer goes off.

I hate standardized testing.

I know plenty of children will follow the training manual; select a plan, create three well designed paragraphs (5-6 sentences each) and read, edit and revise in the allotted forty five minutes.

Simple ideas; carefully chosen words.

But what about the thinkers?

What about the writers, whose idea swirls around, scooping up details like leaves in the wind, gaining momentum like a tornado; unstoppable.

Do I teach her to follow the training manual?

To get to the point?

To reach a conclusion?

To think in 5-6 sentences sections?

Or do I teach her to write with her heart, passionately creating as fast as she can, only to risk receiving demerits for not reaching a conclusion?

Do we impose time pressure on other creative disciplines?

Paint quickly, crank out that masterpiece and whip it into a frame?

Or do we allow brilliance to unfold at its pace, taking our breath away in the process?

I need to teach that girl to type; to move her fingers as fast as her ideas. Perhaps she will have to produce mediocrity for the standardized tests and save her brilliance for an appreciative audience.


Carrie Wilson Link said...

You do NOT want me to get started on standardized testing. Key-rist! Since when are we hoping to make kids, teaching and education f'ing STANDARD?????

You've pushed one of my deepest buttons. So well said, Nancy, thank you!

Deb said...

Try watching a class full of eight and nine year olds spend five days testing and convincing them that it's not that big a deal. I'm with Carrie here - there is no way to be okay with what's being done to our kids in the name of not leaving any behind.

So glad Cadence has you!

Anonymous said...

Teachers hate this testing so much, it has taken the joy out of teaching. They are basically teaching to a stupid test, even if the state says that is not is what is happening. The kids are shutting down, as are the teachers, and complaints are falling on deaf ears. It is the biggest and saddest joke in education. I hate standardize testing. Hannah is now in a private school where she doesn't have to deal with it, but Melanie and Christie still do.

It is the worse idea ever and the state keeps adding more and more with each grade.