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This Is Only a Test

imageThere are already a great many blog posts and news stories out there about the No Child Left Behind standardized testing and the problems and benefits of subjecting it to kids with disabilities. (Okay, I lie. I can’t imagine there are any stories about the benefits.) I won’t even begin to try to address the big picture.

Instead, let me tell you about us.

In Texas, our kids take the STAAR test, which replaces the TAKS test, which was probably preceded by the CRAAPS test and the BUUG test. I have no idea what STAAR stands for, and I refuse to go look. It stands for “The Test That Will Take Hours and Days of Actual Instruction Away From Your Kid, Stress Them Out In Ways You’ll Probably Not Grasp Until They Go Into Therapy or Rehab or End Up on the News With Helicopters Circling Your House, and Provide Politicians With a Way to Sound Like They Care About Education But Most Assuredly Do Not.”

It’s the TTTWTHDAIAFYKSTOIWYPNGUTGITREUNWHCYHPPWWSLTCAEBMADN test. You’re welcome, Department of Education.

Looking back on that paragraph, it occurs to me that I am perhaps lacking a bit of objectivity on this subject. For fellow special needs parents, and certainly to the teachers who are responsible for administering these tests, that’s probably not surprising. I imagine that there are a lot of stories just like Schuyler’s out there, about the extraordinarily bad fit of special needs students and standardized testing. We could assemble them into a single anthology. I’ll call it Please Stick Something Sharp In My Eye Instead. Look for it at your local bookstore.

A few weeks ago, I was at Schuyler’s school for a band chaperoning event when the principal came on the public address and made the announcement to the kids about the upcoming STAAR test. It was an extraordinary announcement. It was all about the procedure, about what not to do on test day and who not to talk to and what not to bring. Phones will be confiscated, bags will not be allowed, and lunches will be eaten at your testing station. If you forget your lunch, you will be escorted to the lunchroom to get food before being marched back to your testing station for the ingestion of said food. If you go pee, you will be closely monitored by teachers (in what has to be the worst and creepiest job of their careers) to make sure that you’re not talking to other students about the test or intercepting test answers from the Outside World. Or trying to self-injure, one suspects.

The test is very important. You will not proceed to the 9th grade if you can’t pass this test. You’ll never date, you’ll not be allowed to complete puberty, your parents will be sent to Antarctica, your dog will be cooked and eaten (at your STAAR testing station, of course), your name will be changed to Eternal Loser, THIS TEST IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.

So, you know. Don’t stress about it. Just do your best.

The STAAR test that Schuyler takes covers the entire eight grade curriculum, and while the way the test is administered is modified for kids with disabilities, the material itself is not. For kids taking special education classes, their curriculum is geared towards their own personal level of development, almost always behind their grade level to some degree. This sets up an obvious problem. Schuyler and her friends were tested over material they’d never covered, and their grades reflected that.

So the data (which reflects nothing of value) is collected, the retests are administered, the study sessions take place during elective classes, and the self-esteem of the students is affected in exactly the way you would expect. All because an inflexible system won’t allow for the differences of kids like them. Not can’t. Won’t

It’s frustrating, watching people who don’t appear to be even casually acquainted with how education actually works take control of public schools and turn our kids’ lives upside down. Teachers become test administrators (and pee watchers), school becomes a data acquisition center, and students are crammed into round holes, regardless of what kind of peg they might be. And if there’s one thing I think we’re all learning, it’s that in reality, there are very few perfectly round pegs, special needs or otherwise. Not to begin with, anyway. Standardized testing is shaving those square edges off, and it’s a painful and damaging process.

All for data, and political posturing, and a grotesque belief in a level of conformity that would make production line-produced robots say “Dude, that absolutely does NOT compute.”

Now that I think about it, that whole “writing with objectivity about this topic” thing I mentioned before? Nailed it.

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3 Comments
  1. Sarah
    April 28, 2014 | Reply
  2. Margaret
    April 28, 2014 | Reply
  3. Kaitlin
    April 28, 2014 | Reply

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