It’s so frustrating


I have been working for the past few hours on a really long post about my feelings about standardized tests. It’s been cathartic, but I can’t imagine anyone will read it all the way through. And I’m only on my first point.

It’s so frustrating to have to explain with evidence why I so strongly despise standardized tests. Not that I don’t enjoy doing the research to justify my opinions. But I find that the students in front of me tell much better stories than the journalists at Newsweek.

My job these past two weeks has been to administer tests. Five a day. It is absolutely mind-numbing.

On the second day of administering the test, one of the third grade students said to me, “This is an abomination. That means disgrace.”

I don’t think this child will pass the test. Mostly because he doesn’t really see the purpose in taking the test seriously. To his face, I remind him how important this test is to his grades, his teacher, and our school. I can’t say I believe I changed his mind on the matter. Probably because those words ring false, even to me. The kid is pretty much too smart to do well on the test.

I watched several students in each grade have complete melt downs during the test. Tears streaming down ten year old cheeks as they fear that they do not have what it takes to answer the questions. Instead of trying and getting the answer wrong, they sit and take the failing grade of a blank paper.

Perhaps more heartbreaking is the eager child who looks to me with unguarded desperation for approval. “Did I do good on the test? Did I take my time? Did I do what I was supposed to do?” So eager to please me. Completely unsure of themselves without the gold star, the test score, the pat on the back. Because approval has always come from without, not within.

I think I’d rather have the student who had the audacity to look me in the face and tell me the test is an abomination. I hope I’m the kind of teacher who rewards such divergence of thought.

Meanwhile, all other instruction has ceased the past two weeks because my time has been spent administering tests. Which means that when my kindergartener, Anna, came up to me and asked, “You coming to get me today?” the first full sentence I’ve heard her say, I almost cried with the guilt of having to tell her, “No honey. Not for two weeks.”

In kindergarten time, two weeks means you may as well start over from the beginning. Two weeks is eternity.

I have a job. And most days I love it. But not on the testing days. Not on the days that I see the kids, the ones I’ve spent months trying to get to ask questions, to react to the world around them, to wonder why it matters that there was an Underground Railroad, that Rosa Parks wouldn’t sit down on a bus, that their city is so violent, that there are wars going on right now in other parts of the world… The kids I’m trying to encourage to THINK for themselves, spend two weeks trying to ascertain the answer that some test-taker has in mind for them to find.

On the test today one of my students said, “Ms. Swanson, is Abby a girl or a boy?” He was writing about a math test question and wasn’t sure of the pronoun to use when referring to Abby.

I felt that summed up the relevance of this test. And the hurdles my almost exclusively non-white students have to overcome to do well on them.

Abby is a girl, sweetie. I’m sorry I didn’t make a poster for the wall about the white names you may encounter while taking the test.

It’s simply exhausting. It’s so frustrating. And I’m really happy tomorrow is Friday and it’s almost over.

Just in time to prepare for the next round of testing.



9 responses to “It’s so frustrating

  1. Pingback: Bubble, Bubble, Toil & Trouble… | Teacher. Reader. Mom.

  2. Spot on Mrs. Swanson! I had one student have a breakdown in the middle of the math test, I felt like I was in “A Beautiful Mind” staring at the blackboard covered with all the numbers except it was my student’s test book. So much pressure for 8 and 9 year olds. Today, being the brilliant fool that I am, I somehow uttered the words, while explaining why some after school programs were starting next week, “to help us become the best readers and mathematicians we can be by the end of the year…remember, we still have the test at the end of May”. Not one of my finer moments, poor kids didn’t have 24 hours of test free breathing before I brought up the ugly reality of our lives.

    Rachel and Karen, I keep reading your book reviews, I love them. I listened to Wonder on my commute and arrived at work and home many days with tear streaked cheeks. I also picked up some of the Jeanette Winter books I had not read, thank you for recommending such wonderful reads.


    • Amy! You’ve been on my mind a lot lately. Funny how the universe pulls people together like that. Would so love to get together with you again soon. Your story of the testing rings SO TRUE. I have a feeling I’ll be writing a lot more about the test. I know a lot of people keep talking about the inevitability of testing. Maybe so. But I’ll be darned if I don’t go down kicking and screaming. (Or teaching kids to love reading, which I see as the moral equivalent of kicking and screaming.) Thanks so much for the encouraging words!


  3. I agree it’s such a pain. However, people want to be able to justify their jobs and others want to see results. The real TEST is finding a way to show growth as well as justify our jobs all while not putting each kid into a “fill in the bubble” box. Keep working hard and making a difference.


    • Yeah. I have some ideas of other ways that we could assess students that would tell us what they have learned without lowering the bar of learning. Another post, I suppose. I’m all about teacher accountability. I just don’t think the fill in the bubble does it. But I’ll keep working on. πŸ™‚


  4. sophytasengsuwan

    Hi Karen. I’m a teacher from Malaysia and I’m new here. Your bro, David took me here. Talking about the standardized tests, they’re far more awful over here. We’ve different sets of tests for different school-types. Kids in national school-type always fair much better than kids in vernacular schools as most kids in the former schools are being ‘judged’ leniently compared to other kids. Love this post much !


    • Hi! I would be fascinated to learn more about how testing is done in other countries. I hear some in the reading I do, but usually it’s limited to a few countries. I look forward to reading your blog more. D. told me that he was passing along the link for our blog! I hope you enjoy it. πŸ™‚


      • sophytasengsuwan

        Oops. I’m so sorry. You’re Rachel. Yes, very much. I enjoy reading your posts.


      • karenkdempsey

        It’s okay, Sophytasengsuwan! Everybody mixes us up! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading Rachel’s posts…and I look forward to learning more from your blog as well!


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