Diminutive One was subdued. It was a momentous day.
It was CRCT retest day.
A pretty black woman signed us in and ushered us to a windowless classroom where rows of chairs were stacked against one wall and boxes full of textbooks lined another. The weak fluourescent lighting was pallid and depressing. Several children roughly the same age as Diminutive One were already there, playing a game of Uno.
The proxy introduced herself. She was to have been Diminutive One's summer school teacher, had we chosen to go that route. She was friendly, but harried. She took him by the shoulder in order to lead him to a seat, but he resisted her.
"Uh...Mom?" his voice was tinged with uncertainty.
He doesn't like new and different. This place made him nervous. The teacher made him nervous. The other kids, clearly so at ease, made him nervous.
The teacher answered him before I could, which annoyed me a bit.
"Your Mom can come back and get you at noon. We're going to have a movie in the cafeteria when testing is finished. It's going to be fun!"
"Listen..." I said, in a firm tone, "I understand that I can't be in the room during testing, but new situations sometimes make him nervous. Above all, I want him to be at ease today. So I'm going to wait in the lobby until testing is finished."
She looked at me askance.
"You're going to wait in the lobby for four hours?" without waiting for a reply, she turned to Diminutive One. "Do you really need your Mommy to wait in the lobby?"
OOh. That irked me. But I kept my composure.
"Yes." I said.
"But why? He'll be fine here with me."
"Because he asked me to."
I looked Diminutive One in the eye, trying to telegraph strength and confidence.
"I'll be fifty feet away. You're going to do GREAT. Just take your time, check your answers, and show your work."
I hugged him and retreated to the lobby.
Thankfully, there was a comfortable chair, a bathroom close by, plenty of sunshine streaming in the front window, and a clock on the wall to cater to my impatience for this whole stupid thing to be over with. That clock and I became bosom buddies over the next four hours. It ticked on steadily, assuring me that time was indeed passing, though it certainly felt as if it was standing still.
I had a banana, a mug of fresh coffee, a bottle of water for later, and a book by one of my favorite authors. It's one I've read time and again, so chosen because I knew I would be unable to follow the thread of anything new. I think of it as an old friend, steady and unchanging. In it's pages there is no longer discovery or adventure, but the quiet solace of familiarity. Just what I needed.
At long last I heard the squeak of tennis shoes on the highly polished linoleum, and Diminutive One appeared, looking relaxed and relieved. The black woman who had signed us in earlier was with him, and she motioned me into the office discreetly.
"The teacher wanted me to tell you that he finished much sooner than everybody else. She suggested that he go back and check his work, but he said he didn't need to. She just thought you should be aware."
I felt my heart sink a little bit. This, historically, has been the problem for us. Fed up, irritated and impatient, at the threshold of his focus and his tolerance for being confined, he will simply start filling in answers. But he KNEW how important this was! He had been preparing for weeks. Surely he wouldn't blow it off this time!
I ushered him into the car, worried, but trying to appear nonchalant.
"Dude...um...the secretary said you finished way before anybody else. I'm a little worried about that, but I'm thinking it's just because you were so well prepared and confident in your answers....right?"
"Mom, don't worry. The test was just EASY. I can't believe how easy it was! I KNEW all the answers. I didn't even have any doubts except for on one question and then I used the strategy they taught me at Sylvan...you know...eliminate the most obviously not right answers first, and then work with what's leftover? So really, I only guessed on ONE question on the whole test, Mom! Can you believe that? Oh, and I showed all my work too. I had two whole sheets full, front and back."
I can usually recognize one of his snow jobs before it's even left his lips. I can see the wheels turning in his brain, formulating a plausible story. But he seemed to be telling the truth. His eyes met mine squarely and his posture was entirely relaxed. The grin on his face seemed pretty genuine to me.
I felt a little better, but still, there was some niggling doubt there. What if he had flubbed it..again? Would I be able to talk them into letting him move on anyway? I'm pretty persistent and persuasive when I need to be, but failing twice...that's not good.
We would have to wait two weeks to find out, which seemed like an unnecesarry cruelty. It was even crueler when two weeks stretched into three. Finally, the letter arrived in the mail. Husband called him down and handed the envelope to him. He took it, looked at it for a very long time, and then handed it to me.
"I can't. You do it."
"This letter is to inform you that your child has successfully passed the math portion of the CRCT and will move on to the 6th grade."
His breath left him in a huge whooshing gasp and his shoulders sagged nearly to his knees. He bent over and let his head and arms dangle for a moment. When he came up, he was beaming with pride and relief.
"Thank GOD." was all he said.
Then, cannily, he asked if his video game privileges, which had been suspended on an unrelated charge, could be reinstated as a reward.
Hell yeah, Dude.
Stupid ass standardized testing. Do you think that they ever intended for it to have these kinds of consequences on students? Do you think they ever meant for it to be so all consuming and worrisome and just....stupidly important?
Maybe they didn't, but that's what has happened. And it's a damned shame.
For us, now, it's over. But unless something changes, he'll be doing this again in three years. And those of you with young children could find yourselves in our shoes one day.
And for what?
You know, if I really thought that these tests have resulted in a better education or a better learning experience for our students, I'd be their biggest fan. But they haven't. Not at all.
My kids and I only have to endure three and six years more years of public education. But there are those of you who haven't even started yet. And twelve years is a damned long time to be stressed out.
Think about it.
And then let's do something.