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Test Prep Season

Scantron[Mr. Foteah is the pseudonym of a fourth-year elementary school special education teacher in Queens. He blogs at From the Desk of Mr. Foteah, where a version of this post first appeared.]

As my third graders prepare to take the state tests, I imagine they’re thinking something like this:

I used to love school. I used to skip there every morning after breakfast. I used to run as fast as I could to get to my classroom (except when an adult was in the hall – then I walked as fast as I could).

I used to wait outside the classroom reading a book or finishing homework. When the teacher opened the door, he used to have a big smile on his face, brighter than the sun. He used to say, “Come in and let’s learn together today!” I used to smile back and say, “Good morning!” knowing I was going to have a wonderful day with my wonderful teacher in my wonderful class at my wonderful school.

I don’t love school anymore. I don’t think I even like it anymore, to tell you the truth. I don’t skip there anymore (but sometimes I think of skipping it altogether). I don’t run to my room (but sometimes I want to run away).

The teacher isn’t happy anymore. He doesn’t say, “Let’s learn together” very much. He only says, “We have an article to read. Let’s get moving.” Most of us wish we could move. Far, far away.

Everyday we read, but not from books. Sometimes they’re called articles. Sometimes they’re called passages. Sometimes they’re called stories. I still don’t know why the teacher calls them different things. Maybe in the morning they’re one thing and in the afternoon they’re something else. We read them, whatever they’re called, and they’re very hard! I keep asking the teacher to let us read books, but he says there is no time.

Sometimes after we read, we have to write a little bit. That’s not so bad. I just write whatever I think I’m supposed to write. I always show it to my teacher because I never know if it’s right, and I want to make sure I am putting what he wants to see.

Sometimes we answer questions with an A, B, C or D. A is the first letter in my name so I usually pick A for most answers. Bubbling is actually kind of fun, though. One time, we took a practice test and when I bubbled in the answers, I made a pattern. It looked like a staircase on the Scantron!

A lot of the kids try to get the answers right. They want the teacher to be proud of them. I see those kids looking back in the passage-article-stories to find answers, but I know the answers, so I never look back. When the teacher says I should look in the passage-article-stories, I say, “But I know it!” and he says, “They don’t want to know what you already know. They want to see if you can read the passage,” and I say, “BUT I KNOW IT!” It is weird, though. Every time I think I do know it, I get the answer wrong. But still, I’m not going to look back in the passage-article-story. It’s so boring. I’ll just pick an answer. Maybe I’ll get it right and maybe I’ll get it wrong.

At the end of the day, I say, “Bye” to the teacher and go home, where I pick answers by myself. When my mom asks me if I’m going to read books tonight, I tell her, “There is no time.” She says, “Okay. Do what the teacher says. You have to do well on the test.”

When I go to sleep I see grey bubbles in my head. When I dream, I see a passage-article-story opening its mouth and swallowing me. When it closes its mouth, I know there is no way to escape, so I wake up screaming, terrified that when the test comes, it too will swallow me whole.



  • 1 Phyllis C. Murray
    · Apr 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    When I coordinated testing in 1988, I realized that times were changing. I wrote a song to the tune of school days. Today as we reflect on all of the test prep, standardized tests, and teaching to the test, it is truly a sad day in the history of education.
    In 2006 Peter Goodman said:The “hick’ry stick” will not result in teachers “teaching better.” I say: Testing and more testing will not result in teachers ” teaching better” nor will it enhance education.

    by Phyllis C. Murray
    Testing, testing
    Dear end-term assessing,
    Reading and writing and arithmetic,
    Watching the clock as it…
    Tick, Tick, Ticks

    Shrink wrapping
    And lots of gridding,
    State Monitors
    Who are not kidding.

    Wrap it all up
    It is time to go,
    For handscoring–
    At the dear old…

  • 2 W. R. Klemm
    · Apr 30, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Some kids DO love school: jazz-band students. The way music is taught by jazz-band teachers has special relevance for all teachers. What I learned about teaching in general from attending a high-school jazz- band festival in Texas is shared in a recent blog at Psychology Today. See http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201204/what-all-teachers-should-learn-jazz-band-teachers-1