Thursday, February 5, 2009

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3, 4

This week the school has a strange feel. Kids are either louder or much quieter than usual as they bounce from standardized testing in the very quiet, controlled atmosphere of testing to the euphoria of relief that one more test is done. Only the students in kindergarten through second grade are living a normal life--normal except for the more ardent shushing that they hear as they march down the hall past doors with yellow signs declaring "Testing! Do NOT disturb."

Now is neither the time nor the place to enter into the wide world of controversy surrounding standardized tests. Most of the time I can find a reason to agree with all of the arguments, both pro and con.

I have been trying to remember when I started taking tests. I remember tests in third grade but don't know if that was the first year or just a continuation from years before. I have been saying that they were CAT--California Assessment Tests--but as I think about it they were probably from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. I will say that CAT is much more interesting sounding that ITBS which is why we always used the longer name in some permutation of my life.

Just like most students I have talked to this week, I remember thinking that the testing process was pretty boring. For me the worst part was the rote reading of the instructions before every test. My last name at the time was almost as long as my current last name so had more letters than could fit into the space on the test. Each time we started the test the teacher would read with boredom dripping from the monotone of her voice, "If your name does not fit in the space, please raise your hand." Then she would look pointedly at me. I would raise my hand and explain that the line was two spaces short. The teacher would tell me to put in as much as I could. It was the testing ritual that stays with me all these years later. What the questions were are long gone from my memory, but I know that the line for last names had 11 spaces.

Parents, teachers, and society sometimes seem to make the testing process much more intense than anyone intends. That is why I like the picture book Testing Miss Malarkey by Judy Finchler with illustrations by Kevin O'Malley that give even more personality to the story. Miss Malarkey is a good teacher. Readers of others in this series already know that. Suddenly, however, she is chewing her fingernails and looking very stressed. It is time for the state sponsered IPTU test. (Say it out loud and you will agree that someone is deserving of pity.) All the other teachers are equally stressed as they practice filling in bubbles in art class and do "yogurt" in P.E. to help them become "one with THE TEST." Even the aptly named cafeteria lady Miss Slopdown is focusing on THE TEST by serving no more potato chips and lots of fish. The school brings in Dr. Scoreswell, The Svengali of Tests to help the parents understand what to do help with the test. The questions that the parents ask him are hilarious yet more than a little frightening in how close to reality they may be. On test day there are sick kids and sicker teachers. When the story tells about one girl who, told to erase all pencil marks, erases the entire test. Throughout the story, adults are telling the kids to relax, have fun, and not worry about THE TEST. The actions of the adults tell another story.

I enjoy reading this book to the classes that are in the midst of testing. It helps them relax. They find new humor in it every year.

Next week the testing will all be little more than a memory for the kids. We can only hope that parents and teachers remember how relatively small the impact this test has on the students and their future.

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