Earlier this week, I asked my 9-year-old son what
his teachers had told him and his classmates about the standardized tests they’d
be taking for the next week-and-a-half.
He looked at me with wide, serious eyes. “They said it’s
going to be one of the biggest tests of the year,” he said. “Even bigger than
the one we took in the Fall.”
Shrugging and returning to his bowl of oatmeal, his
seriousness all but ceased. He didn’t seem too worried about the tests in the
moment. His test-induced stress had come earlier in the day when he was trying
to wrap his head around a complex practice test question about honey and mason
jars and long division and someone named Jian. Once he solved the problem, he
Though he wasn’t too stressed about his upcoming
tests, I was. I still am. And my stress has nothing to do with politics or
polemics or misconceptions about the Common Core and its mission. Instead, it has everything to do with how those
tests will measure my child, and how that measurement threatens to loom large
over every other one of his skills, characteristics and strengths.
I’m not exactly the white
suburban mom worrying that the current tests might show that my child isn’t
as brilliant as I think he is. He might be brilliant. He might not be. His
scores might be high. They might not. What worries me, however, is that my
child, his teachers or—gulp—I will come to see his test results as the primary
measurement of all of his strengths. Not just the narrow set of academic
strengths evaluated by standardized tests.
I’ll admit that I probably put too much stock and worry into these tests.
“What if his scores are lower than expected, and then
I start to lower my overall evaluation of him?” I’ve asked myself. What if he
doesn’t do well? Does that mean that he is failing? That his school and
teachers are failing him? What if he’s not gifted? What if he is gifted? What
if he’s average? Or below average? What might these results say about his
future? His ability to go to college? To get a job? How might seeing his test
results affect his self-worth?
What might these test results say about him?
I’ll admit that I probably put too much stock and
worry into these tests. Nonetheless, I think that almost any parent can
identify with the stress of having their child evaluated or tested. It’s all
too easy to mistake test results for a permanent, future-shaping claim about
all that a child is or ever will be.
As I pondered this stress after my brief conversation
with my son, I was reminded of a sign posted by the front office of the
preschool that he and his two younger brothers have attended. The sign is conspicuous,
simple and clear. And it has often reminded me that academic performance is
only one part of a person’s skills and achievements.
The sign’s heading is simple: Personal Qualities Not
Measured by Tests.
The qualities listed below this heading are simply
brilliant: Creativity. Critical thinking. Compassion. Sense of reality. Sense
of wonder. Resilience. Leadership. Empathy. And over a dozen more.
They’re all qualities just as important as academic
performance. In some cases, they are even more important.
Remembering this sign and all its wisdom helped me to
put all my stress into perspective.
His standardized test results will only reflect one part of him. They won't define him.
My problem—the root of my stress—is my own
overestimation of the test results’ meaning. They won’t say everything about my
child; they’ll only say a few things about a small part of him. They won’t predict
his future, but they will identify academic areas where he might need
additional challenges or support.
I don’t need him to be perfect. I don’t need him to be
the best at everything or the best out of everyone. I don’t want him to think
that he is the most special snowflake in the universe.