There are moments in life that can only be remedied by eating an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s in one sitting. I’m not proud of these moments. I eat to physically manifest an intense emotion- usually guilt. It’s strangely comforting to feel uncomfortably full of a sinful food when I’m feeling bad about something else in my life at the same time.
I usually gain at least 5 pounds in May. May for teachers is the worst. It is a giant bomb of stress, excitement, sadness… just every single emotion all condensed into a few super intense weeks.
Standardized tests are one of the factors at work in the madness that is May. Inevitably, every year I cry in my classroom for one or more of the following reasons:
- I’m so proud of a student who passed. One who was afraid and anxious. Despite my encouragement, they didn’t believe they could do it, but did! I can’t wait to tell them.
- I’m heartbroken for a student who failed, we both thought they could do it, and they just didn’t. I am dreading telling them.
- I’ve failed a certain number of students. Whether 2 or 15, I know I could have done more. I’m never exactly sure what that “more” should look like, but I know it’s out there, taunting me, calling me a bad teacher from somewhere out in the universe.
There’s nothing I despise more than the phrase, “My students just can’t do that.” This refrain was allowed, even encouraged, before the standardized testing movement. Special Education and ELL students weren’t expected to participate in grade level curriculum, and that was wrong. If students aren’t pushed, you never know what they can do. If students aren’t tested, you never know what they can’t do. It’s a deficit model, sure. But, when there are such disparities in education, it’s important to know where the inequities exist and work to provide all students with opportunities for success.
There are many things that are wrong with testing, though. For one, 8th graders in my school take 6 high stakes tests in one school year. They are pressured to pass for many reasons. Some of them are worth high school credit, and failure could lead to losing an elective course like art or music in favor of reading or math remediation.
The tests are long. So long. This year’s reading test took most 8th graders upwards of 2 hours to complete. At 60ish questions, this is a lot for anyone to handle, not to mention a middle schooler. They are totally wiped out afterwards, and it’s depressing to see the life sucked out of them. Normally vibrant students put their heads down, their eyes vacant of the spark of a typical school day.
The worst part of all this, though, is having to tell the students who passed or did not pass. The results of those tests feel like validation or invalidation of all the work we have done together in ELA during the school year. Having even one student not pass is heartbreaking. It’s really difficult to tell a kid who has been struggling and working hard all year they didn’t pass. It feels a little like, “Hey, even though you’ve learned that reading isn’t so bad, read Shakespeare, and participated in class with your best effort every day, even though you’re a kind and caring 14-year-old who has overcome obstacles to just be at school with a positive attitude each day, it’s just not good enough.”
No amount of ice cream can remedy that.