Edgy Mama: End-of-grade testing

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.

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14 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: End-of-grade testing

  1. limabeancounter

    Seems kinda sad… I rarely scored well on any kind of test like that. And golly, I still went to high school where I took more tests to show me how dumb I was. Then, I went to college and they gave me some kind of paper with my name on it, saying I must have learned this and learned that. Then, I had to get a job working with all of the people who actually passed those tests. Ain’t life grand?

  2. Rio

    I could go on and on for hours about how much I hate those ridiculous EOGs! I have yet to meet one teacher who thinks they are a good idea. I actually have enough faith in our teachers to think they can teach the material and best assess if a child is ready to go on to the next grade. And whoever thought a 3rd grader should sit for 2 hours taking a test? I’ll never forget my 5th grader completely freaking out over his EOGs – Restless ended up keeping him for two days at her house, packing him lunch, and getting him to and from school. Try as best we could to support him, the pressure was just too much, and one of Mom’s fun friends was a better option.

    Those things are a pox on our educational system! Aren’t we lucky we have a bunch of white, wealthy, male lawyers and and former athletes to legislate this kind of stuff for us?

  3. Kess

    My child, who’s in gifted, who got straight As last quarter, and who rarely worries about her grades, was up late last night worrying that she’d fail the EOGs and have to repeat 5th grade. I think all these kids would be so much better off if the school didn’t make such a huge deal out of preparing (otherwise known as cramming at the last minute) for these tests, and just trusted that what they’ve taught throughout the year will be sufficient, rather than scaring the heck out of the kids with the potential consequences. Who tests well when they’re scared and worried?

  4. Kristin

    I agree with Kess. It is the emphasis put on them that creates the stress. Of course, the teachers hands are tied, as their jobs are sometimes on the line with these things. I remember taking these tests, but I remember no kind of emphasis on it. It was just another boost to my already over-inflated 10 year-old ego. Of course what I didn’t know then but know now is that it wasn’t some confirmation of my genius but, rather, a confirmation of my truly profound gifts of guessing and, by extension, b.s.’ing. These are helpful gifts, but intelligence they are not. Private schools are only required to test in grades 3, 6, 9, and 11, and they get to set their own requirements for minimum scores to move on. My kids’ school puts no emphasis on the testing at all and has a minimum score of 1, which is irrelevant because they don’t have grades. I am grateful to not have to stress about it. Last year, when my son had to take the 3rd grade test, he labored over it for a while then just began filling in bubbles. He later told me that the test disgusted him with how simple, irrelevant, and stupid it was. He said he expected a challenge and did not get one, so he wasn’t going to put any further effort into it. Another great b.s.er in the family! On the other hand, for students who have a hard time testing or learn differently, they can relax and do their best when there is no pressure and when they know it is truly not a test of their worth as human beings. This is my greatest concern: what are we doing to their self-esteem? We are either over inflating it with a false sense of confidance in a type of intelligence that may or may not get you anywhere at all or destroying their self-esteem unnecessarily.

  5. limabeancounter

    I change my opinion. These kids need to suck it up just like I did. Life is hard — so go ahead and get a giant swig of anxiety while you’re still young enough to be halfway sane.

  6. restless

    Ahh, Rio, I was thinking about you and Sonny Boy this morning when my 5th grader had a defiant moment (he purposely dropped the Othello board, scattering the pieces everywhere because his younger brother was beating him). He rarely acts out, so i have to blame it partially on test stress. Wish you were here; i’d send him on over.

    To add insult to injury, I believe that if a child doesn’t show improvement on the EOGs from the BOG’s (beginning of year pre-test), it reflects badly on the teacher. Sad, sad system.

    I heard that some states have ditched the EOG’s and the federal funding that comes attached to the NCLB, in favor of teaching. What a concept.

  7. Musoscribe63

    EOGs are a flawed approach, and educators and administrators are near unanimous in their disdain for them. You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who’s in favor of them. I know one adminstrator who understand the overarching plan; she calls the NCLB program “No School Left Standing.” By that, she means “No PUBLIC school lef standing,” of course. Conservatives latched onto NCLB as a back-door way to destroy public education: set high goals, cut finding, sit back and watch ’em fail. Then offer crap like government-funded vouchers and money to faith-based madrassas…er, I mean, Catholic schools, Howard’s Harem and such.

    Hopefully with a Washington Democratic majority in 2009 we’ll repeal the NCLB nonsense. NC had a perfectly good system (called ABC — no relation to the package stores) that was working; it did have standardized testing; like it or not [NOT!] that’s a fact of life, but ABCs were more carrot than stick. NCLB is punitive.

    BTW arguing against EOGs ins’t very “edgy.” What’s next: a screed against littering? ;-)

  8. Musoscribe, I’m happy to consider any “edgy” column suggestions you have.

    I did receive a couple of e-mails about the importance of educational standards and the low levels of math and science knowledge in this country. Some folks want to put their opinions out there on this blog; some like to e-mail me directly.

    I love the feedback regardless (well, most of the time)!

  9. Musoscribe63

    I was just poking fun with my parting shot. Keep up the good work.

  10. Summer

    I remember in high school one kid failed them. On purpose.

    Got something like 1 right. Smart enough to have passed the things with flying colors, but purposely chose to bomb it. He passed the retest with ease if I recall.

    I’m sure he was trying to make some big point. I remember it only getting him in big trouble.

  11. Rick

    These kids need to suck it up just like I did. Life is hard—so go ahead and get a giant swig of anxiety while you’re still young enough to be halfway sane.

  12. Sheila

    I am a teacher in Nc. I am going to school to get my Master’s Degree and I am doing a research paper on the negative effects of EOG pressure on 3rd grade students in NC. If anyone would like to comment or give a story I would really appreciate this.

  13. Cheer4evralways

    I am in the 7th grade this year and agree with Rio, about how ridiculous it is for students to sit for 2 HRS and take a test that shouldn’t mean anything to our state, county, or school. During the whole school year, there is all the talk about EOG’s and getting ready for them. ENOUGH ALREADY!! The pressure really gets to you during EOG week because this decides basically how “smart” you are, and whether you go on to the next grade. As a student, I personally think that EOG’s are nothing more than making our counties and schools look good in the eyes of other states.

  14. jackie

    I’m against the eog , I mean what purpose does it really serve? This type of testing was not very well thought out and who ever said this is in the children’s best interest they are joking.

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