Monday, March 16, 2009

She's Not Testy Over Standardized Tests

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 J├Ągermeister-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.


  1. "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!"

    Add: And we get to chew sugar-free gum during the test!! (And this helps because.....?) This is why my mine loves the Pennsylvania's version, the PSSAs which start today as well.

    My thoughts on these total waste-of-time tests which eliminate the need for actual teaching and learning, spending hours learning how to color in a dot, and put way too much pressure on both school and student? I'll be polite and keep them to myself.

  2. My sad thoughts are of a time before such creatures as the CMT's (or in Texas the TMTs ever existed and we actually learned useful stuff like pie are round and cornbread are square! And I still can't forget Avogadro's number.

  3. "No. 2 pencils good; No. 4 pencils bad." made me laugh out loud. Are there sheep on the poster, by chance?

  4. yer famous now!!

    Having already sneaked a peak at this post (thanks) - I say BRAVO you Advocate-or!

    no mention of the byline?

  5. We call them CRCT in the Peach State, and it is a vacation for my kids as well. I don't think they get a new pencil and eraser every day, though.

    The highschooler has state mandated end of course testing this week. No matter that the course doesn't end until the last week in May. I don't really get that.

    My kids test really well (way better than they actually perform in school), and I have whipped that fact out a couple of times when I am trying to get the school to do something for me. "You know my kid and the other debate kids are the kids that keep your test numbers up, not the football players, so you need to do blah,blah,blah for them." Used judiciously, it can be a very effective tool.

  6. I wish I could be so easily pleased that a new pencil and eraser would make my day!

  7. Wait, I thought CMT was Country Music Television. I could watch Nashville Star all day long!

  8. We just got done with the standard testing too. I understand why they do them but do they have to fill the kids (and some parents) with such anxiety? Ugh...there's got to be a better way...she says, unwilling to volunteer for the school board! Hey, I still have a little one! I've got time! :) What was that?

  9. My company makes us take "courses" with tests that must be passed. They switch up topics, but my most recent one was about Information Security. Why to use passwords, passive network attacks, blah, blah. It sounds to me like these "standardized tests" are in fact getting kids ready for the real world.

  10. Hold up?! Two weeks?! Here, the standardized tests are three days, and they're not even full school days. Also, my kid no doubt kept his streak alive and I expect that next fiscal year, the state will deny my district additional funds based soley on his scores. He's always wanted to be be famous!

    Could I love you more for the Animal Farm play? No. No, it's doubtful. Not when there's already this much adoration brewing! However, it made me laugh out loud!

  11. Two week tests?? Get out! I didn't know the little critters went to school for two weeks without a 4-day "break" for something or other!

  12. My 10th grader just finished her standardized testing here in So Cal. Two days of agonizing torture, and that was just from me listening to her complain...


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