Testing season is upon us. If you’ve been watching the news, you’re well-aware of the Common Core backlash, particularly when it comes to the increasing amount of testing that our students will endure under these new mandates.

It would take me many posts, over many months, to explain how I feel about testing and what the new requirements are doing to our schools, our classrooms, our teachers, and our students.

So instead, I will just tell you ONE story, from ONE child, from ONE day last week.

A little background: When I returned from maternity leave in October, I spent the first day trying to get to know my students. When I got to Mellie, she was very straightforward, very matter-of-fact.  “Hi. I’m Mellie. I won’t be here long. I never stay in one place for a long time.”

She’s still here. And I’m so glad about that. You’d just love this girl. I know I sure do. She’s beautiful inside and out. She’s confident. Charming. Funny. She listens and asks really good questions. She nods when she “gets it” and frowns when she doesn’t, which makes my job easier.  I’ve watched her very carefully as she’s worked to assimilate among the other students here, and I really think she’s starting to feel at home…for once.

Last week, we began our state assessments – the very assessments that you’re probably reading about in the newspapers, In case you aren’t aware, these assessments cover the entire NEW eighth-grade curriculum. And they’re given in February. Because testing a child over a year’s worth of curriculum in February makes perfect sense, right?

And they’re hard. Really, really hard. In fact, the state predicts up to a 33% drop in student proficiency. As teachers, we’ve worked diligently to prepare the kids for these tests and the rigor that accompanies them, but the truth is evident: Many of them won’t do well. And friends, there are few things that can make a kid feel worse about him or herself than a really hard test.

So last week in social studies, I helped guide the students through the online math practice test. A few minutes into the practice test, Mellie raised her hand. I walked over to her.

“I don’t understand,” she said. I looked down at the math problem. It was something about inputs and outputs, and I had no idea how to solve it either.

“Just try your best. Think it through…” I encouraged.

“No, you don’t get it. I DON’T know how to do this. I am so stupid,” she explained. And then the tears started to fall. This beautiful, confident girl, a girl who has moved eleven times, a girl who was finally in one place longer than a few months, simply broke down in the middle of my room.

And I froze. Because what do you say to that? I put my arm around her and looked her in the eye. I tried to explain that she was smart, and that the test is hard. So, so hard. I tried to explain that many students are feeling the same way she is, and that there’s no way she would know it all right now. But my words were futile in stopping the tears. She listened, and then she said something that stopped me in my tracks:

“No. That’s not true. If this is what’s on the test, then THIS is what I’m supposed to know. And I don’t know it, so I must be stupid. Otherwise, why would they ask us these questions?”

And my reply…my awful, horrible reply to that statement: “Try your best.”

I wanted to tell her that it didn’t matter. I wanted to tell her that the TEST is stupid. But I didn’t. Instead, I uttered those three useless words.

That night, I went home and couldn’t get Mellie off my mind. If a practice test can drive a confident girl like Mellie to tears, what is it doing to all the quiet, insecure kids out there? What is it doing to the ones who will never speak up, and instead, are wrestling with these feelings internally?

I wish I would have said something different in that moment, but like so many moments in my career, I said the wrong thing.  The next day, I slipped her this card in the hallway, and walked away. I don’t know if it made her feel any better, but at least I told her the truth.

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