TCAP time not really about learning

Standard: (adj.) used or accepted as normal or average.

One Saturday near the end of my junior year of high school, I got in the family car and drove across town to Christian Brothers High School, my designated testing location for the ACT.

I’d gone to CBHS as a student my freshman year before leaving for Kirby High School. The Lasallian Brother who was proctor over the test remembered me, though, and he remembered my father and an uncle, both of whom had been less-than-stellar students.

The reunion was just one of the uncomfortable moments from that day, a day spent hunched over ovals, reading long-winded essays and deciphering algebraic formulas. It was 1987.

In elementary school, a week was spent with the Iowa State Achievement Test. It was meant to match our standards to those of kids in Iowa, I suppose. For me, it was a week of no homework and obsessing over whether I had two No. 2 pencils in my possession at all times.

It’s been decades since I last thought of these tests.

The days are approaching when my children will be taking the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program. The administration of Shelby County Schools has its policies in a bunch because, with the recent snow days, there hasn’t been the opportunity for teaching toward that test.

There have been discussions that kids should attend school on an upcoming Saturday or two to catch up on the cramming. Never mind that extra days are built into the school year in case of absences due to snow days.

But this isn’t about teaching, is it?

I used to drive an old Volvo station wagon. The tail pipe had rusted almost completely off and a rear light cover was broken. Before each yearly registration inspection, I would jam a piece of tailpipe over the rusted nub so the emissions check could be completed. I put red tape over the light cover. Once the testing was complete, I pulled the tailpipe off and threw it in the trunk until the next year; the red tape curled over time and sloughed off.

Preparing students for standardized tests has as much to do with teaching and learning as what I did with that Volvo had to do with vintage automobile restoration. Teachers today are required for weeks on end to, in effect, throw Bondo at their students and hope that something sticks before the hours of questions and answers required to confirm that our children are indeed standard.

I’ve been an adult for a long time now, and the one standard I’ve found is that there is nothing standard about it at all. Adulthood is full of responsibility and planning, but there is also a fair amount of intuition and instinct at play. I’ve had some success and some failure, and I’ve known joy and sorrow. The secret, if there is one, is to never stop learning about everything you can any time you can.

And don’t worry, this won’t be on the test.

Link to The Commercial Appeal