Tonight I watched my generally laid-back, happy 13 year old son break down in tears over the stress of standardized tests administered to him at school. And, so, tonight I gave my son a speech that totally negated the validity of these tests. I'm not sorry I did.
I told him a secret none of us knew back in school. Not even those of us in the "smarty-great-test-taker" club (I was in that club). That secret is: unless you're a genius, when you grow up and join the work force no one gives two flying rips what you made on any of those tests in school. Being able to sit down and choose the correct answers on a test gives no indication of whether or not you have the grit it takes to make it in life. And, honestly, even if the person next to you at work is smarter than you, if you're willing to outwork them that's what gets noticed.
School is already a struggle for my son who is basically a square peg trying to fit himself in the round hole of public education. I know he feels like he's swimming upstream every single day as he fights against ADHD, moderate sensory processing issues, fine motor delays, mild visual memory issues, and just the fact that he's a hands-on learner in a world designed for visual/auditory learners. He has nothing severe enough to qualify for an IEP. He has modifications that I doubt are even considered during test time because our poor public school staff are understaffed, overworked and just as stressed as the kids! So we take a child like my son, make him believe these tests are life or death, put him in a room where he has to be still for hours, with a brain that often processes the sound of a ticking clock like a pounding on the wall. The result will not be an accurate picture of what he knows or what he's capable of.
A standardized test will not tell you what amazing adaptations his brain has made over the years to overcome his predominately proprioceptive sensory issues. This test will not tell you that at 4 years old he randomly told me who the 26th president was on the way home from daycare or that at 3 he could differentiate the various types of trailer hitches on every truck someone he knew drove and match them to other hitches, from memory, while in public. These tests won't tell you that he intuitively knows when something is wrong with me no matter how hard I try to hide it or that he meticulously sees to his livestock chores every single day without a reminder. They won't measure his huge capacity for compassion. They won't show you how amazing he is with small children or how he's had an uncanny ability to strike up conversations with much older adults since he was a toddler. These tests won't tell you that while he may struggle with writing and sometimes at keeping up with his homework, if you put him to work outside with his hands he's relentless and quite the perfectionist.
So, today I told him I don't care what these tests say about him because they're not the whole picture. We told him to, of course, try his best. That's always our expectation for our children. But, you can't measure my beautiful, unique, amazing son with a test.
Furthermore, you cannot measure his teacher's efforts with this test, either. They are dealing with hundreds of beautiful, unique individuals with equally unique learning styles and struggles. We can expect a standardized continuum of development for kids and we can set benchmarks, but we cannot teach them all the same way and we cannot measure them all authentically with these "standard" tests. I hear from the children, the educators, and the parents this system is not working. Preparing our future generations for adulthood and the workforce should be our goal. Are these tests accurately measuring our work towards that? Can all our kids truly be on one "standardized" track towards that goal? All of us in education truly know the answer to that question, and we've tied our teachers' hands, forcing them to be ruled by these tests and to take all these different shaped pegs and force them in to one shaped hole. Then we tell them their jobs are on the line.
At some point we have to wake up, look at the evidence, and change our system. We are going to pay the price for it later when our children end up without an authentic education. Just a "standardized" one that only truly works for a percentage of them.