A day not long ago, my third-grade son seemed especially stressed out about school. I don't know about you, but a third grader having stress about school is something I didn't expect or like very much.
I asked him lots of questions: Was it a certain subject? His upcoming book report? A problem with a friend? A bully?
Nope. He was stressed out because he knew state testing was coming up and he was worried about passing. I didn't know whether to be happy that he cared, sad that he was so worried or mad that testing has come to this.
As a parent, it's difficult to watch your child stress out about school.
This week, the state testing window opens. I am all too aware of this, not just because my third and sixth-grade children will be taking tests, but because my work as a school counselor comes to a screeching halt in order to prepare for and give these tests.
Schools, specifically school counselors in most districts, put enormous amounts of time into planning, preparing and giving these tests. Paper and pencil tests require counting, counting again, labeling, bubbling and sorting. Online tests require test tickets and creating a hardwired infrastructure that some schools don't have the wiring to support.
Our school's building test coordinator, who is also a counselor, has been working on testing since August. Literally August. Running reports. Sorting students. Planning small groups. Verifying data. Coordinating the circus that will soon commence.
Starting this week, every adult in our building will start giving these tests and most every student will start taking them. It is impossible to not be stressed. It is a major ordeal.
It is like this in every school. The pressure is palpable, so much so that my third-grade son is worried about it.
What I told him, and what I tell all students worried about testing is this: All you have to do is your best. Some people are really good test takers and some people aren't. Some people have learning issues that don't allow a test to measure their abilities. Some people are sick the day of testing and don't do well. Some people didn't get a good night's sleep or a healthy breakfast. Some people didn't go to a school where learning standards were completed in time for the test. Even though the tests are standardized, there are many variables that go into each student's test.
The state test is just a snapshot of one day when a student took a test. It does not define who they are or who they will become.
I stated it to my third grader this way: "Will, look at this picture of you when you a few years ago. You were had all baby teeth. You wore glasses. Your hair was pretty light. Your face was round and you were about 4 feet tall. Now go look in the mirror. You are 9, almost 10. Your two front teeth have grown in. You aren't wearing glasses. Your face has gotten longer. Your hair is darker and you have grown about a foot. That picture of you three years ago does not define who you are today, just like the test you take this month will not define who you are this summer, next year or when you graduate from high school."
So, if you or your child is stressed about state testing, don't panic. Help them get a good night's sleep, feed them a healthy breakfast and give them lots of reassurance that all they need to do is their best.
It's true that learning should be measured. And, it's true that your child's knowledge should grow. But, pressuring your child to put all their eggs in one basket by placing their worth in one test is misguided at best.
So whether your child scores high or fails the test, know this: it's just a test. Life will go on. The test measured their knowledge, not their IQ, at one moment in time.
Don’t look at it as the end-all-be-all. We are all in this together.
Michelle Sutherlin is a NewsOK contributor and a middle school counselor in Norman, OK, who works with students ages 11-15 daily. She is also a mom to two boys, Ryan (12) and Will (9). She and her husband have been married for 16 years. For more articles about parents and middle school, check out her blog.
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