Standardized insanity

I received my first set of standardized school test scores back from my two older sons. One would think that my children would be master test takers by now. After all, they have participated in years’ worth of these kinds of exams. As I picked up the first set of results, I couldn’t help but wonder which versions of my children showed up that day – Bobby Fischer or Forrest Gump? Ludwig van Beethoven or The Waterboy?

Just as I suspected, my boys’ rather inconsistent history of test taking continues uninterrupted. Despite the nifty bar graphs, percentages, and growth projection goals, I know the truth:

These tests don’t mean squat.

Now don’t get me wrong. I understand there are lots of things that hinge on a school’s overall test scores: federal and local funding, whether schools are allowed to remain open, teacher evaluations, etc. Yet I fear putting so much importance on a second-grader’s ability to not accidentally skip a problem while having to pee like a racehorse is a little ridiculous.

And for the record, I theoretically have one Bobby Fischer this year and one Forrest Gump. The roles are reversed from last spring (which were also opposite of those before that).

There is a raw desperation that emits from CPS during testing season. Countless notices arrive home, links to preparation sites are provided, and dietary suggestions are outlined. For the public well-being, I’ve pretty much condensed the various directives into a single list:

  • Eat nothing but blueberries, salmon and almonds for the two weeks leading up to the test
  • Send your child to school with 35 sharpened No. 2 pencils
  • Make sure your child sleeps 15-22 hours each night
  • Plan to attend at least four of the Parent Workshops on child coercion and motivation techniques
  • Threaten to send your kid to military school if he doesn’t do well
  • Consider hiring a private tutor for tips and practice exams
  • Speak in gentle, soothing tones the morning of the test
  • Dress your child in muted colors so as not to be a distraction to other classmates
  • When scores arrive home, please share the results with your children (particularly if the scores are poor) and reinforce that their next performance will ultimately decide the fate of education in the state of Illinois and the entire nation
  • Have fun with it!

The madness is so different from my own experience with standardized tests. I vaguely remember arriving at school, being handed a chewed-up No. 2 pencil (no eraser), and being told that whoever finished their tests first could go play in the gym. I think I filled in the same letter for all 100 questions. How could I possibly focus when there was dodgeball to be played?

No, I do not believe a child’s intelligence or educational progress can be measured by a multiple choice exam. Some of the smartest folks I know (those who are capable of leading people through disaster, fixing complicated machinery, and doing long division in their head) have all fessed up to being horrible test takers. Many “good” test takers are just as likely to admit that they have no skills in practical application whatsoever.

I would humbly suggest that it is time to embrace other assessments of learning and progress. Building a model, outlining a story, and providing chain of reasoning reflect far more about a student than knowing whether “dog is to cat” is the same as “up is to down.”

So can you guess whether or not I reviewed my kids’ test scores with them as directed?

Heck no.

There was dodgeball to be played.

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