Friday, November 15, 2013

The Fourth Graders' Champion

I know it's time to change the subject when my mother calls to remind me, having read my post, that she, too, found menopause confusing and difficult.  I thanked her for her concern and reassured her that, although I may be writing like a deranged person,  I do not yet have menopause as an excuse.  I am still two years younger than she was when she was hit with that hormonal tsunami which altered her personality to such a degree that I was in the process of arranging an exorcism when her proverbial barge began to turn with tugboat haste away from the imminent berg.

Blame it on the moon--the full moon, not my moon.  That moon won't set for two more years, so I still have that year of dementia to look forward to.  If you happen to wish me a happy birthday in 2015, you might remind me, also, to take a year-long sabbatical from publishing my blog.

With that disclaimer aside, let's go ahead and launch into a new diatribe.

I would like to make a modest proposal.

My son's fourth-grade class just finished taking the WKCE test.

If you're unfamiliar with this exam, [ ] suffice to say, it falls somewhere on the exam ordeal spectrum between the MCAT and the New York State Bar Exam.

Obviously, that's an exaggeration which applies only to the fourth, eighth, and tenth grades, which are tested in all subjects, not just reading and math, but also science, language arts, writing, organic chemistry, comparative literature, and microeconomics.

All of the other grades are only tested in reading and math, which is akin to sitting for the bar in some statutory backwash where they make the law up as they go along.

Fourth graders, of course, are awesome at sitting for exams.

Most of us old folks would be bored, but fourth graders can keep it interesting.

One girl drew faces in all of the little bubbles on her worksheet.  Some she  made into flowers.

I thought that was very clever.

The teachers,  not wanting to identify with the Spanish Inquisition, encourage the kids to chew gum, suck on Jolly Ranchers, and take bathroom breaks as needed.

Unfortunately, Joshua swallowed his gum.

I've discouraged Josh from swallowing his gum as a general practice.  One shouldn't, don't you agree?, swallow one's gum; one should wad it up in something handy and dispose of it properly.

Who knows what happens to that indigestible stuff when it enters the alimentary canal?  Does anyone know? Has anyone ever survived to tell us about it?

The WKCE minutes ticked by as Josh pondered that question.

Finally, he raised his hand and ushered the teacher to his desk, where his answer bubbles were neither decorated, animated, or, (dreary choice!), penciled in.

I swallowed my gum.

That's okay, Josh.  I think you're alright.

Are you sure?


Should I go to the nurse?

I really don't think it's necessary.  You'll be okay.  I promise.  

Thoughtful silence.

Can you go back to focusing on your test, do ya think?

I guess so.

Okay. Good man.  Want a Jolly Rancher?

Yes, please.

So here is what I would propose, given what excellent test-takers fourth graders are:

They should elect  a Champion to take the test for the whole class.

Some fourth graders, three or four maybe, are really good at taking tests.

I've identified one such child in Josh's math class.  He always finishes his worksheet first, after cheerfully whipping through it, and his score is nearly always perfect.

He's the kid who puts his pencil down smartly, looks up with a smile, and recognizes once again that he is the true test-taking champion of the classroom.  He tries not to be smug.

That's not my child.  My child doesn't do well with time.  Given all of the time in the world, he would probably complete that worksheet by Saturday.  And the answers would be 99% correct.

But the clock doesn't stop for my son, in the same way that it doesn't stop for me.  Time is a kind of tyranny for people like us.

Not so for the Champion.  He's always got extra time; time when he has to be quiet and busy himself somehow while everyone else in the classroom continues to slog through the test, mired as they are in daydreaming, cartooning, gum swallowing, fidgeting, fatigue, and brain-freezing anxiety.

It's good to have a big, huge, all-consuming, enervating test to measure whether or not the school system is educating our kids.

But don't tell me that my kid's score on this timed test reflects his  aptitude or academic accomplishments.

His reading score was sub-par on the test, but according to his teacher, he is among the top readers in his class.

His fluency score was average, but he is extraordinarily articulate.  Ask anyone who knows him.   Josh has his issues, but being so-so in the brains department is not among them.

Clearly, the WKCE doesn't accurately measure what my kid knows.

The academic accomplishments of the creative young lady who decorated her answer bubbles were not accurately measured by the WKCE.

She and Josh should not be the school's test-taking Champion.

Let that boy whose head is up and pencil is down first--the one who hums happily while taking a test, and who emerges triumphant every time, with a smile on his face--I say, let him take the damn test.

I nominate him to be the school's WKCE Champion.  He's not home-schooled.  He's learning the same stuff the other kids are learning--he just is better able to perform well on a long test.  It's a gift.  Outside of academia, it's not especially valuable, but inside the institution, it sets him apart as being one of the only children, if test scores are to be taken seriously, (and you cannot convince me of that), who is learning anything.  

So, if the state needs to know what Prairie View Elementary is teaching our children, let our Champion test takers fight that battle.  Let the two or three fourth graders who are truly gifted at taking long arduous endurance tests do what they do best, and let them represent the school.

And then we won't have to undersell ALL of the other kids for not being so great at taking tests.

The state bureaucrats, if they're even paying attention, will discover what the school is teaching.

Our kids won't have to be unnecessarily tortured and stigmatized.

And our kids' teachers can take back those long, lost weeks, days and hours of test-preparation and testing back and use them productively--for teaching.

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