Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Testing, Testing

I'm partly just testing to make sure I can still post from my new computer - woohoo! I got a lovely MacBook Pro, which arrived just today. And then I spent a good long time trying to get the wireless to work. Which, obviously, I did - and (not so obviously) without any help other than what Google could serve up.

But what I really want to grouse about is school testing, which the Bear is going through this week. He's in second grade. He's utterly casual and unstressed about it. He tests easily and well. He's lucky, I'm lucky, and I know it. That's not my point, though. Even though I really like our elementary school, the testing system is absurd and I'm not at all sure who it's supposed to be helping.

The older kids? All of them are obviously stressed, even if - like some of the fifth graders I know - they're not so much uptight about the tests themselves as burned out on all the homework that led up to them.

The teachers? They've been like hamsters in a wheel ever since our eleven snow days torpedoed their lesson plans. The problem with snow days, coming in winter as they tend to do, is that they also tend to fall before testing week. On top of this, the Bear's main teacher is dealing with some scary-serious health problems. She's wonderful. She's done an awesome job in the face of major physical challenges. Someone should please give her an A+ and call it good.

And what are the kids learning, anyway? For starters, that you learn stuff to pass the test, and afterward you get to hit auto-erase and goof off for the rest of the year. That tests come fast and furious, all in one week, and nothing else really counts. That material and ideas don't matter unless they might appear on the tests.

Most curiously, they learn that the reward for a job well done is - sugar! Nothing against rewards or sweets - I like 'em both - but in moderation, please. All year long, the school tries to promote healthy eating. And then, during testing week, the school bombards them with sweets after their exams - and even during. Both second-grade classes get to suck on lollipops or hard candies. According to the Bear, who's usually a reliable reporter on such things, there are studies showing that pressure on the roof of one's mouth helps people perform better on exams. I haven't tried to verify it. The kids, in any event, think it's a sweet deal.

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