April. A month full of beautiful blooming trees, refreshing showers of rain, and anxiety associated with State mandated testing.
Today is the day in April that we have been talking to my son about for months now. As a third grader, he will take a standardized test that states and districts will use to compare his performance to others his age. Based on the scores, he will be put in a category of either ‘above average,’ ‘average,’ or ‘falling behind.’ (these are my own labels)
I have seen the impact of standardized testing from all sides. Each year of my childhood, I took standardized achievement tests in school. For five years, I administered the standardized tests as a public school teacher. And this year, for the very first time I am a parent of a child who is taking a standardized test that the state and district will use to put my son in a category.
Though I am not interested in getting into the heated debate about the importance of standardized testing, I would like to stand on a mountaintop and tell every lawmaker, every school administrator, every teacher, and every parent this . . .
“Every child that will take these tests is much more than a score in a set of data that you will look at in a few weeks. They are creations of the God Most High who knew them before they were knit together in their mothers’ wombs. Each one is a child of the King. They are princes and princesses, and their Father wants them to know He has a purpose for their lives.”
Through tears and frustration, I had to tell myself this growing up. My competitive spirit propelled me to never be satisfied with a score any less than perfect on a standardized test. Whether it was a state achievement test in elementary school or the ACT in high school, I often found my self-worth in the percentile ranking I would look at on those test result summaries.
As a public school teacher, I was given a different perspective. I taught in public school in Texas during the “No Child Left Behind” era. There was always a conflict in my heart as I taught my middle school science classes. I struggled to not find my value as a teacher and the value of my students in the test data I would receive after my students took standardized tests.
There was one part of me that wanted to work as hard as I could to give my students every tool possible to be ‘successful’ on the end of the year standardized science test. Then there was the other part of me, that wanted to sit each child down, wrap my arms around them and tell them, “In the grand scheme of life, these tests that you will take in April really don’t mean anything. You mean much more to God and to me than any science test score.”
And if I am honest I must confess this: (and this is where I ask my former principal, Mr. Allie…the best principal in the world …..to close his ears) I did hug many of my students and tell them those words.
I hugged the overachievers like me who often found their only worth in a percentile ranking. I hugged the ‘falling behind’ students who had given up at ever being able to score a passing grade on a standardized test, no matter how many review guides they completed or test tutoring sessions they attended.
Yep. I gave hugs to these 8th grade girls and boys…turn me in if you want. In those test tutoring classes I taught, I tried to find a point to look each child in the eye and tell them, “Just do your best. The score on this test does not determine your value to God and does not determine where you will be in 10 years. I will be praying for you.”
Yes. I know my words and actions make me a criminal in the eyes of some, and I don’t care. I am not sure that God would consider my law breaking words and actions sin.
Today, I wear a new hat in this world of standardized testing. I am a mom. I am a mom of a child who struggles in math. It is not because my child is in public school. He has had incredible public school teachers. It is not because he doesn’t try hard. And it is not because my child doesn’t have parents who care about his success in education.
My son can read just about anything you can put in his hands, but put a math problem in front of him and you can literally see the fear and uncertainty radiate from his face. No matter how many flashcards we’ve made. No matter how many different methods teachers have used. Caleb struggles in math.
What was easy for me as a teacher to tell children who were not my own, has not come as naturally for to me to tell my own child.
I, the certified school teacher, have found it a greater challenge to successfully teach my own child who struggles with math than to teach a classroom full of 8th graders who struggle in science. It has been more difficult for me to ignore the ‘data’ and see through to the heart of my own child and trust that he will be ‘okay’ no matter what the test scores say.
This overachiever has found it extremely difficult to parent a child that loves school, not because he makes top grades, but because he loves learning and loves being around his friends despite the difficulty he faces when he does math.
Many math homework sessions in the past two years have ended with both of us in tears. Words and actions that I would never have said or done in my classroom, I would find myself doing and saying to my own child in our home.
Too many times in the past couple of years I found myself next to Caleb’s bed at night asking for his forgiveness and letting him know that I am proud of him because of who he is and not because of his performance on his math test or homework.
And then I would pray Colossians 3:23 over him “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”
April is here. All around this great nation children will sit in classrooms taking standardized tests then parents and teachers will anxiously await the pending scores.
Somewhere in that massive amount of data that ranks states, districts, teachers, and students, is the score of a precious gift from God Joe and I named Caleb.
Some voices will tell us Caleb’s future is determined by the scores he makes on standardized tests.
Just as I chose to be honest with my science students, I choose to be honest with my own child.
“Caleb. Tests are a part of life and a tool that can be used to see if we know the things we have been taught. They are not the only tool. Though we expect you to ‘work at it with all your heart,’ your worth to us is much more than a test score. My son remember the words of Jeremiah 29:11
‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ‘
Your life is in the hands of your Creator. Put your trust in The God Most High not in a set of test score data. Find your value in being the child of a King, and not in labels that this world will stick on you.”
As we all await the scores, may we all remember that this April will come and go just like it did last year. May students, teachers, and parents find their value in the timeless words of our Father, instead of a set of data that changes each April.