Stress Tests

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Academic Assessments: Stress Tests?

I love this time of the year.  Spring is sneaking in, in all its glory - warmer temps, sunny skies, and gentle breezes redolent with the smell of just cut grass, flowers in bloom and freshly sharpened #2 pencils.

That's right.  It's time again for those state sponsored academic assessments, better known to my generation as "dot tests".  They are the litmus test of learning, providing a graphite laden snapshot of how well a school, district and state are teaching their youngest citizens.  Used by government to point fingers, place blame, heap praise and create pie charts, these tests are being taken more seriously than ever. 

If a school places low in the rankings, they become the "red headed stepchild" of their district.  Newspaper articles will highlight their low scores, teachers and administrators may lose their jobs, and Realtors may even avoid selling houses in their vicinity.  That's an awful lot of pressure to perform.  Unfortunately, that pressure is being delivered squarely to the desks of our children.

Preparation for these tests actually begins taking place at the beginning of the school year.  Practice tests are given, games are built around what they need to know to pass, updates on these rehearsals are sent home throughout the fall and winter.  They drill the children for months, attempting to incorporate regular schooling, while all the while "teaching to the test".

Give me a break.  The only preparation we ever got was one practice question which insured that we could actually "completely fill in the dot".  Oh yes, the admonition to "use only a #2 pencil".

At least that part hasn't changed.  Except my daughters are required to bring in TWELVE a piece.  They (meaning me) are also asked to contribute snacks and drinks for use during the testing process.  Given the list that comes home, you would think these children are embarking on an Outward Bound experience, not taking a test.

Pardon me, THE test.

With all the practicing, propaganda and the public relations papers coming home in their backpacks, I finally asked my kids if they were nervous about the two days of testing coming up.  They looked up at me and as they both nodded, I could read not just nerves, but fear in their eyes.  Months of pressure and preparation and now they had performance anxiety.  Worst of all, they were deathly afraid of letting their teachers down.  

Well, lo and behold, there is a protocol for that too.

While my daughters will be ensconced behind closed doors, frantically filling in dots, they will also be wearing slippers, eating survival snacks (sugar), and cradling their favorite stuffed animals. One of them actually plans on taking a bed pillow to school in case she wants to lay on the floor during the tests.

Yes, lay on the floor. 

Apparently, teachers are allowed to do anything it takes to insure their students are comfy, coddled and cocooned.

Personally, if you put me in a warm room with my pillow and bunny slippers, I would fall asleep.  Oh wait, that's what the survival bags of marshmallows, gummy bears and M&M's are meant to combat!  (The only part of my generation that slept through these tests were our rear ends from sitting in a hard desk for hours.)

Makes me wonder what testing will be like when they take their SATs in 2010.  "Please check in no later than one hour prior to testing to be assigned your ergonomic relaxation recliner, personal masseuse, and to place the grilling preference for your filet mignon.  And don't forget your  #2 pencils."

Well, some traditions are sacred, right?

Tips To Keep Your Child Calm

~ Get many good nights of  sleep leading up to the actual tests.  A well rested child is a much more relaxed child.
~ Limit TV watching and video game playing.  Both have been shown to increase anxiety levels in young kids.
~ Offer a well balanced breakfast the mornings of testing.  Juice, yogurt, fruit, toast, eggs - all offer a better start to their day and will stay in their tummies longer than a Pop tart or sugared cereal.  
~ Dress comfortably.  Nothing tight or constricting, or too warm.
~ Wake up about 20 minutes earlier on test days.  This ensures there is none of that last minute running around we all do every morning.
~Finally, look your child in the eyes and tell them the two most important things:
1.  It does not matter to me how you score as long as you do your best.
2.  I love you.  (STRESS that one several times.)

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