This week, my third-grader will take end-of-grade tests for the first time. She’s nervous and I’m irritated.
For parents who aren’t there yet, end-of-grade tests are given to public school students in grades 3 to 8 in North Carolina during the last weeks of school. The tests are supposed to assess competencies as defined by the North Carolina Standard Course of Study. In other words, if your kid doesn’t pass the tests, your kid does not pass “go” and may not move to the next grade (forget collecting $200). After the first test failure, there’s remediation, then a second opportunity a week later. After the second failure, there’s summer school, a third opp, then it’s up to the principal whether or not the kid moves on. Basically, we test the kids least likely to pass as many times as possible and pray they figure it out along the way.
The EOGs debuted in North Carolina in the 1990s as part of standards-based educational reform. This type of reform also encompasses the infamous No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in 2002 by our soon-to-be former president. Supposedly, setting high expectations and consistent goals helps all students succeed. That is, unless you’re a poor tester, have a learning disability or get woozy at the sight of all those little bubbles to be filled in with your No. 2 pencil (I took twice as long to vote last week because I had to check that all my bubbles were completely filled in). And if your school doesn’t meet the federal standards, you’re screwed—or according to the government, offered corrective action or restructuring.
So the tests are important, and my sensitive daughter knows it, which may be why she’s nervous. She also has high expectations of herself. While I have no doubt that she’ll pass the tests the first time, she’s less confident than she should be. I asked her teacher how to boost her confidence without overemphasizing the tests and making her more anxious. His answer: “If I knew that I’d be able to make a million dollars.” I’m rooting for him to figure it out, because I’d happily pay for any (non-medical) formula that could increase her confidence in her abilities.
I’m irritated about the EOGs for a number of reasons, in addition to the stress they’re causing my child. One, I don’t think these types of tests truly measure kids’ abilities and aptitudes. I was a decent student but a poor tester (thank goodness the SATs have an essay section). Two, I don’t like that teachers are forced to teach to the tests. At my daughter’s school, the teachers work to balance the curriculum and not overemphasize the tests, but the school’s annual evaluation, and thus, reputation, is affected by the test results. And bubble tests don’t exactly fit into the experiential learning methodology.
I also worry that we’re putting too much pressure on our kids at too young an age. Remember when kindergarten consisted only of socialization, snacks, and naptime? Now 5- and 6-year-olds are deep into reading, writing and arithmetic by the end of kindergarten. I don’t remember spending months preparing for bubble tests in third grade. All I remember is that I got on the wrong bus to go home the first day of school. When the driver realized I was the only kid left on the bus, he dropped me off at a gas station in South Atlanta with a dime to call home. That was a hands-on learning experience.
My daughter’s already a better tester at 9 than I was at 17. So I’m not sure why she’s so stressed about the EOGs. Is it the system or just her individual personality or both? I partially blame Enviro-spouse. Although he was an excellent student, he says one teacher told him that he should calm down about school or he’d give himself an ulcer. There must be a gene for high-strung competitive academics. And E-spouse passed it to our girl.
Today, as I again reassured my girl that she’ll pass the EOGs with no problem, she said, “Mom, I think kindergarten, first and second grades are like the minor leagues. Then third grade is the first year in the majors.”
So I guess she’s just moved from the Tourists to the Rockies. If only we could help her understand that she’s not standing at the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. And we love her no matter what happens next.