Spring has finally sprung…at least according to the calendar, which means here in NY schools are preparing to administer the ELA and Math standardized tests in grades 3-8. Having taught grades 3-6 over the past 18 years I have had my fair share of dealing with the controversy over these tests. As I sit here trying to decide whether to opt my 7th grader out of the tests again this year I have had many things to consider. What keeps coming back to me are the words I have heard from students throughout the years. I feel compelled to share what students have said to me in order to remember what these few weeks are like from a child’s perspective. No matter where we stand as parents, teachers and even politicians, we have to remember that what we do and say and demand of our young children cannot be forgotten or overlooked when they sit down to take these tests. I realize this does not represent every student nor every school, however based on my experience, this is what a letter from a student would look like as I’ve quoted concerns they have personally expressed to me and have remained in my memory year after year. 

Dear teacher,

I want you to know that yesterday I worked as hard as I could on the first part of the State Test.  I hope I remembered to do everything you’ve taught me so that I get a good grade. I don’t want anyone to think I’m stupid.

I went to bed early to get a good night’s sleep but my baby sister who shares my room cried a lot last night.  When I woke up I forgot to change her diaper because I was so tired. My dad screamed at me and told me I was irresponsible. I can still hear him yelling and the image of his angry face makes me want to cry.

The letter the school sent home said we should eat a healthy breakfast but my mom forgot to go shopping so I had to split a Pop-Tart with my brother. I will try to eat the school’s breakfast today but I usually don’t like it. I hope my stomach doesn’t growl like it did yesterday. I got really embarrassed when the other kids heard it and then I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I hope JJ doesn’t throw his test and pencils across the room if he gets mad today. That really broke my concentration.

I’m sorry that I had to use the bathroom during the test yesterday. I went before we started like you told me. I tried really hard to hold it but I couldn’t. I didn’t drink anything this morning to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I’ll do my best to remember all the strategies you taught me but sometimes I get really nervous when I don’t understand something and I forget. I wish I could ask you questions.

I tried my best to concentrate and work hard the whole time but after an hour my eyes got really tired. My legs started to fall asleep and I really wanted to get up and move around. I’ll do my best to sit still and be silent but I’m worried I won’t be able to. We never have to sit still that long on a regular day. You once said it was torture for you to sit still that long without a break. I hope I can do it.

I feel bad for C. because she told me on the bus this morning that her dog died last night. She didn’t want to come to school but her parents said she had to take the test. She was crying in the bathroom and wanted to go home.

I’m jealous of all the kids whose parents gave them permission to opt out of the test. If it doesn’t matter if they take the test I don’t get why I should have to try so hard. I will beg my parents to get me out of the math test because I know I am going to fail anyway. I am really bad at math. I failed all of the practice tests even though I stayed after school for extra help. Why should I even bother?

I tried to tell two students to stop fighting this morning. I hope they calmed down so their teacher doesn’t get mad. I got in trouble for not minding my own business.

I feel bad for Mrs. G. I heard one of her students say they were going to fail on purpose because she gave him detention last week.

This morning on the bus T.told me that her mom forgot to give her medicine before she left and now she is worried she won’t be able to concentrate. She’s probably going to get in trouble again for being a distraction.

I hope K. can stay awake today. I noticed that she kept falling asleep yesterday even after you woke her up. She told me her family got kicked out of their apartment and had to sleep in a motel. I don’t think she cares about the test.

I hope the class doesn’t get mad at me again for taking so long to finish. I feel bad for making them wait for me until I’m done. Some of them said I’d better hurry up today so they could talk sooner.

Please try not to look over my shoulder or walk around the room too much. It makes me really nervous. I feel as though I’m being monitored like a prisoner.

I will listen carefully while you read all of the directions to us, but I will probably forget most of them. They are really long and my mind wanders quickly.

I think you should give M. extra tissues and make her sit in the back of the room today because she kept sneezing and it made me lose my train of thought. I don’t know how she could possibly concentrate.

Why do I have to keep doing the same thing over and over for three days in a row? Can’t they figure out if I’m smart the first day?

I wish we didn’t have to change our schedule. The day seems so much longer and I always get confused about what we are doing next or where I’m supposed to go.

Thank you for telling me to just do my best and to try not to worry, but I see how anxious everyone is. I dread being in school. Everything is so serious and stressful.

Ms. T yelled at her class yesterday. She said they should stop complaining about the test because when they are in HS they will have to take the Regents so they’d better get used to it. I don’t get that. We’re only 10.

I always get good grades in reading so why were there so many words I didn’t understand? You told me I was on grade level but these passages were so much harder.

I don’t understand why everything is so strict. Why do we need to be escorted and monitored in the bathrooms? Why aren’t we allowed to talk about the test after? Why can’t you grade my test and tell me how I did? Why is everything such a big secret?

I hope I do well. I promise I will try very hard because I want you to be proud of me and I want everyone to know you are a good teacher. You encourage me and help me. You are like a mom to me. Don’t get mad at me if I get a lower grade than usual.

I will help you put all of our posters back on the walls so it looks bright and happy in here again. I can’t wait for these tests to be over so we can go back to learning and doing cool projects where we work together.

 Please don’t forget all of the other things I am good at. I want to be able to laugh and smile, ask questions and discuss ideas with my group, and I want to be creative again. I want to wake up in the morning and look forward to everything we are going to learn and not have to worry about sitting still, falling asleep, being silent and feeling like I’m in the army. Remember…I’m only 10 and there is so much more for me to learn than how to take a test.

Love,

Your student who longs to enjoy school again.

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