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What Do Feelings Have To Do With Standardized Testing??

It’s springtime.  The time when most people think of flowers blooming and birds singing.  But, if you’re a teacher, you’ve reached the dreaded season of standardized testing.  While I am retired from the “front lines” I remember this anxiety producing time all too well as I meet my colleagues for well deserved happy hours where we wine…and whine!  The frustrations with the standardized testing requirements, and the undue pressure it places on students and teachers to perform to the test are shared by all.  But frustration isn’t the only feeling I associate with standardized testing.  I am reminded about a third grade student who was in my class years ago.  Her name was Katie.

Katie was a very sensitive child.  She was shy and quiet, afraid to attract attention to herself or do anything that might possibly hurt another child’s feelings.   She had mousy brown hair that hung over dark plastic framed glasses that were slightly too big for her face, so she constantly had to push them back up to the bridge of her nose.  Her face wore a quizzical expression as if she were eternally perplexed by the world she peered out upon.

Katie was perplexing to me as well.  A highly capable student in the classroom, she always scored  far below her ability level on previous standardized testing.  This was a concern to a low testing school (with a high at risk population due to second language learners and low socio economic status) that was always pressured to increase our testing scores in our high performing district.  I spent much of the school year leading up to the testing trying to figure out why Katie underperformed.  It wasn’t academic.  Could she have test anxiety?  She did not have anxiety with testing in the classroom, and she assured me that she did not feel any extra pressure during standardized testing.  So, the year continued and I continued to build a rapport with my students and help them to do their best in the classroom and be ready for the upcoming standardized tests.  I felt confident that my students, including Katie, were well prepared mentally and academically as the testing dates neared.

On the first day of testing, I followed the script that teachers are to say (word for word!) to give directions for the test.  As the test began, I walked around the classroom, unable to answer questions, with new pencils in case any of the student’s pencils broke during the timed testing.  Shortly after the testing began, I saw Katie rapidly filling in answers and turning pages on the test booklet quickly.  I was puzzled….she didn’t appear to be reading the passages or questions.  My puzzlement turned to alarm when she closed her booklet after a few moments in an hour long test and began to silently read her book (the signal that she was done with the test).  Unable to question her as to why she finished so quickly, I picked up her test booklet to see if she had skipped any pages or questions.  I quickly noticed every answer was filled in, but I noticed an interesting pattern in her answers.  She chose A-B-C-D, A-B-C-D, A-B-C-D until her test was complete.  It wasn’t until the testing was completed for the year that I was able to question Katie as to the speed and pattern of her answers, and Katie’s response stunned me.

A sensitive child, she did not want to hurt the letter’s feelings so she did not read the questions but chose the answers in order, A-B-C-D, so that they would each be chosen equally and no letter would be left out!!

The story was a hit in the teacher’s lounge:)

I wonder if the state’s educators had any idea there were Katies in the U.S. when they talked about tying teacher’s salaries to the testing scores of their students?  I would have been in big trouble!

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