America: The Land of the Free and the Home of the Test
So if today was your first day in a new country where you didn’t speak the language, what would you be worried about?
If you are a normal human being, you might be worried about getting food to eat, making sure you knew where to go, and you would definitely want to know the exact location of the bathroom. You would absolutely not be worried about taking a standardized test.
But unfortunately, for one nine-year-old at my school, a standardized test and the accompanying tears defined her first day in an American school.
Tuesday morning, a young girl whom I’ll call Gabriela, arrived at our school ready for her first day. Any first day for any child holds a flurry of emotion — feelings of nervousness, excitement, curiosity, and fright all at the same time — but for a child who doesn’t speak any English, these emotions are likely exponentially greater.
So picture it: Gabriela comes to school, anxiety bubbling in her stomach. She’s scared, but she also interested to meet a new teacher, make new friends, and discover the workings of her new classroom. Will the teacher be nice? Will the kids like her? Will this school be different from her school in Mexico? Her mind races.
What greets her as she walks in the door? Standardized testing. Lots of it. On this special day, a day she will never forget, Gabriela spends a large portion of her day taking a standardized test. It doesn’t really matter that she just unpacked her things in her new room because she has to take the test. It also doesn’t matter that she doesn’t speak English. She’s not exempt. Why not? Math is supposed to be universal, although almost every question has directions written in English, and even though the English Language Learner teacher is allowed to read some directions, this doesn’t help because Gabriela can’t understand him.
Frustration sets in. Then, the tears come. To Gabriela, this is America.
She makes it through Day 1 of testing. Six more long days to go.
It’s clear that our testing system in this country is broken if we have to witness what actually happened to Gabriela. I don’t use the word ‘tragedy’ lightly, but that word fits here. Some might even call it abusive. Everyone would call it sad. Unfortunately, a lack of knowledge about how government rules and law affect real children stands as the biggest roadblock to change. If the public knew about what standardized testing was doing to real children, there would be outrage. At least, I hope so. With any luck, this blog post will give others some of that knowledge needed to facilitate change in a broken system. Please take action in any way you know how.