Some people have test anxiety. My daughter, however, sees it as opportunity to indulge in her favorite pastime -- mass accumulation of stuff.
I learned this the other day when, upon the drive home from school, Thing 1 pledged her love to the Connecticut Mastery Test. The CMT, for those of you out of state and/or without children, is the major standardized test for elementary and middle school students in the Nutmeg State, a nickname for Connecticut that most kids don't know today because it won't appear in the form of a question on the CMTs. This is good because, frankly, it's a stupid nickname. "The Place in the Northeast Where the Natives Don't Have a Funny Accent State" -- now at least that would makes sense.
How well a school district's students do on the CMT forms the basis of its educational reputation. Fairly or not, this partially explains why in some circles our town's public schools are thought of as highly as those "how to operate your remote control" channels on cable and DirecTV. To make matters worse, schools that don't improve their test scores can eventually lose important federal funding because, darn it, this is America -- we can only support so many flawed industries and lost causes. Besides, when was the last time your kid donated to a re-election campaign, huh?
All school year, my third-grader has deluged me with reams of notices from school explaining the CMT, offering test-taking strategies and inviting me to forums explaining why I should pay attention to these notices telling me to pay attention. Naturally, I round-filed them all, instead opting to convince Thing 1 to shut off yet another "Hannah Montana" rerun and study her vocabulary words so, for once, she could ace her weekly spelling test.
My priorities, not surprisingly, were all wrong.
A teacher told me that even though the CMT now has a section requiring a written essay, the two things test evaluators don't take into account are spelling and handwriting. These people obviously had the same rigorous training as the ones who gave me a passing grade on the scrawl known as my 20th Century American History final in college, which was taken with a raging Jägermeister-and-Keystone-induced hangover. (Ed. note: Excessive drinking is not a state-approved CMT study strategy for students, but it is optional for teachers, administrators and parents once testing concludes.)
Anyway, I'm sure she'll do OK. Thing 1 been fed a steady diet of CMT strategies since kindergarten. For example, the walls of her school are lined with vaguely Orwellian slogans such as "Show what you know," "Rename = Title; Brief = Short" and "No. 2 pencils good; No. 4 pencils bad." Also, knowing my girl, I am pretty sure she viewed hours of filling in bubbles on an optical scan sheet as something akin to a government-sanctioned art class.
"Why are you so happy about taking the CMTs?" I asked.
"We have no homework for the whole two weeks during the test," she said. "And every day before the test, I get a new pencil and eraser!"
My expectations are now set. Test evaluators, if you are reading this, be kind. Her answers may be wrong, but they will be done in the neatest, blackest, most precisely filled-in bubbles in the state.
Moreover, please note how, when you look at them from afar, they form a perfect smiley face.
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