You Got This, Baby!

Poster2 Day Two of Three for test week.  I drop my daughter off with encouragement and wishes of good luck, reminding her, “You’ll do fine!” and I leave the parking lot.  On my way out, I meet another mom, and we roll windows down to exchange greetings.  Her son is in elementary school, on Day Two of Four for his test week.

We discussed the value of this whole test business and discovered we had each been telling our kids the same thing all week… What this test says about you?  Nothing.

Nothing.  That’s what the results of this test will tell me about my daughter or about her son.  That’s what it will do for their GPA and their futures.  That’s the impact it will have on their grades as they exit this current year of school.  Nothing. So we remind them to keep that perspective.

What happens if you do well?  Nothing.  What happens if you do poorly?  Nothing.  If you happen to rock the results, you can send them on to a college or university and impress them with your test-taking skills.  If you end up with less stellar results than you hoped, if you fail to meet some self-imposed standard, then you walk away with the confidence that comes from doing something hard and giving it your best and finding out your best is enough.  And you earn money for your school, through funding, by taking the test.  That’s it.  That’s the sum value of test week.

It’s a perspective I wish every student could hold.  This test does not define who you are.  It does not decide your worth or your employability or your success in life.  It does not mean you are stupid or that you didn’t learn enough in school.  It has no way of quantifying all the best parts of you: your character, your authenticity, your generosity, your passions and your heart.  It is a computer that spits out questions and logs your answers and that’s it.

As you can tell by now, I have little faith in tests, in spite of being a teacher and a lover of education.  So many of us stutter at test time, buckling under pressures when we normally would sail through with ease.  There will be a constant barrage of stress and pressures attempting to close in on us for the rest of our lives; I fail to see the benefit in starting that process too soon.  I understand schools need to gain funding somehow, and if the system in place says that funding will come per student who takes the test, then my child will take the test to raise money for her school, since she partakes in the benefits and perks that money provides.  Beyond that, testing is, in many respects, a broken system.

Rather than knowing my child hit the top percentiles in English or earned a B in Spanish or aced her Geometry, I would much rather know they carry compassion in their hearts.  I would rather see them choose kindness to others, see them spending their time and their money to help those around them.  I would rather see them happy and excited and invested in life and interacting with their friends and families.  I would rather see maturity in areas of decision-making and self-knowledge than see an A on that test.  I would rather know they gave their everything, that they tried their hardest, that they did their best in the areas of life that really count: like areas of honesty, areas of relationships, areas of connecting with others who are hurting and who are different.  I would rather see my child branch out into the untraveled paths, searching out ways to explore her gifts and share them with the world, than breeze through a standardized test that lumps every single individual into a mass and melts them down and pushes them to become the same clone that slid off the assembly line before them and the same as the one that will come after them.

We are not clones.  We are not all the same.  We are individuals with the most awesome gifts and talents and interests and hearts and emotions — as different and unique as we could possibly be, and yet so much the same in so many ways.  And desperately crying out for each one to contribute their part to the whole.  How can we possibly think a standardized test is going to be anything of value in a mix like that?

It’s like expecting Yo-yo Ma to beat Tiger Woods at golf and Michael Jordan to pick up the cello.  It’s like hoping Michael Phelps will knit as well as he swims or waiting for the entire Chinese Olympic gymnastics team to take up an interest in NASCAR.  Expecting one test to tell us anything important about our kids is like thinking that Henry Ford could just as well have written like Washington Irving; but instead we have the assembly line that made cars affordable for the average American family and we have stories like Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow that have thrilled generations.  We have swimmers and knitters and golfers and musicians and artists and gymnasts and teachers and doctors and welders, and none of them are capable of doing and being all that in one package.

That’s the beauty of test week… That we can have these conversations with our kids, reminding them that no test on the planet will tell me what I already know about them.  That they are kind.  That they are courageous.  That they are smart and beautiful and compassionate and talented and loving and considerate and respectful.  And most importantly, they are mine and they are loved.  Period.  End of story.

Because when it comes to life, it’s the days and the minutes and the hours that determine our character.  It’s the choices we make on a daily basis, when things are tough, when no one’s looking, when we are tired, that really tell me what I need to know about you and what you need to know about yourself.  You do have what it takes.  You are exactly who and what you should be.  No matter what a computer or a piece of paper tells you.

So, baby, you go take that test and you rock those results — no matter what they look like — because this is just a small blip on the radar screen of life that means nothing in the long run.  You take that test, knowing you are contributing your part to your school, and then we’ll go out and get some ice cream or see a movie, and we’ll get on with the rest of our lives, the important parts that really define who we are and who we want to be.

You got this!  

(And you might not want to use that kind of language on the English section of your test.)

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