Aussie Friends of Treehorn
encouraging adults to think sensitively, to care for kids, to make wise choices….with their hearts in gear, their pens active and their votes available .
One Mother’s Story: How Overemphasis on Standardized Tests
Caused Her 9-Year-Old to Try to Hang Himself
There are major costs to corporate-driven “education reform.”
“…I received a note from my son’s teacher telling me he’d failed the FCAT [Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test] by one point. The note said he’d have to take a reading class over the summer and retest…We weren’t alarmed as he only had to score one more point to be promoted…
“…a few weeks later his teacher called. [My son] had failed the test, again by ONE point!
“…I didn’t tell him, but the next day [he] told me he knew he’d failed because if he had passed we’d have been told by the school and be celebrating. I lied—told him it takes several days and we’d know soon, but he insisted he’d failed.
“It was dinner time. I called down the hall and asked what he wanted to drink with dinner. No response. I figured he was watching television in his room and hadn’t heard. A few moments later I called again. Again, no response.
“I can’t tell you what it was that came over me, just that it was a sick feeling. I threw the hot pads I had in my hands on the counter and ran down the hall to [his] room, banged on the door and called his name. No response. I threw the door open. There was my perfect, nine-year-old freckled son with a belt around his neck hanging from a post on his bunk bed. His eyes were blank, his lips blue, his face emotionless. I don’t know how I had the strength to hoist him up and get the belt off but I did, then collapsed on the floor and held [him] as close to my heart as possible. There were no words. He didn’t speak and for the life of me I couldn’t either. I was physically unable to form words. I shook as I held him and felt his heart racing.
“I’d saved [him]! No, not really… I saved him physically, but mentally he was gone…The next 18 months were terrible. It took him six months to make eye contact with me. He secluded himself from friends and family. He didn’t laugh for almost a year…”
Her son had to repeat the third grade. That happened five years ago, and she says the damage continues: “Currently, [he] could be driving with a learner’s permit but he refuses. Why? Because ‘eighth grade kids don’t drive.’ If new friends saw him they’d know he’d failed a grade… Retention is repetitive and lasts a lifetime. It’s never far from his mind, just as seeing him blue and hanging from his bunk bed sticks in mine.”
For years, this story was a family secret. A mutual acquaintance, knowing from my Knight-Ridder/Tribune columns that I had repeatedly attacked the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test not just as a waste of time, money and human potential, but as child abuse, gave this mother my email address and suggested she write me. I met with the mother and child personally and can vouch for the fact that they do indeed exist.
If failing to reach the pass-fail cut score by just one point wasn’t within every standardized test’s margin of error; if research hadn’t established that for the young, retention in grade is as traumatic as fear of going blind or of a parent dying; if standardized tests provided timely, useful feedback that helped teachers decide what to do next; if billions of dollars that America’s chronically underfunded public schools need weren’t being diverted to the standardized testing industry and charter promotion; if a generation of test-and-punish schooling had moved the performance needle even a little; if today’s sneaky, corporately driven education “reform” effort wasn’t driven by blind faith in market ideology and an attempt to privatize public schooling; if test manufacturers didn’t publish guidelines for dealing with vomiting, pants-wetting and other evidences of test-taker trauma; if the Finns hadn’t demonstrated conclusively that fear-free schools, cooperation rather than competition, free play, a recess every hour in elementary school, and that letting educators alone could produce world-class test-takers—if, if, if—then I might cut business leaders and politicians responsible for the America’s current education train wreck a little slack.
But all of the above are demonstrably true. And yet we keep subjecting children to the same dangerous nonsense, year after year.
I’ve no doubt that at least some reformers sincerely believe that America’s schools should be privatized, that educators are unduly attached to the status quo, that unions are a serious problem, and that teachers resist change and must be pressured to perform. I’m sure some are sincere in their belief that the Common Core State Standards actually identify core knowledge, that standardized tests can evaluate complex thought processes, that the reforms they’re pushing, although painful, are essential and right, and that teachers can’t be trusted to judge learner performance.
But wilful ignorance from an unwillingness to talk to experienced educators is unacceptable.
Given the money and power behind current corporately driven education policy, few tools for resisting are available. Of those tools, refusal to go along is both the moral and most effective choice. Thoughtful, caring parents won’t be bullied by test manufacturer propaganda or threats from those in Washington or state capitols who cling to the quaint notion that test-taking ability is a useful, marketable skill.
This is a sad story, but it is real. It should not be dismissed lightly, even though it ‘happened in America’. It was still a real mother and a real child. It happens where the circumstances are conducive. Scaring kids is part of our education system. With the inbuilt intent that is part and parcel of NAPLAN testing – to frighten and stress children to get better scores on immoral, unreliable, useless tests – we can be pretty sure that this story has its counterpart here in Australia. We Aussies don’t care much about kids, so there’s no sense in talking about it.. Australians have a casual attitude towards the mental health of our young; and our media would not be allowed to print a story such as this, in any case. We all know that too many children feel ashamed when it comes to pressure on them to get better scores, but adults prefer not to talk about it, too much. Most schools and principals approve of klein-type testing. Since a few million pupils have already been through the NAPLAN branding machine in Australia, there are sure to have been; and we will have more casualties, such as this story portrays, as the years go on. Children can be very sensitive little people.
They can well do without the kind of child abuse and cruelty, now becoming endemic in Australia’s schooling system. For instance….
1. Testing of the data-collection kind is being introduced soon into Year 1 for Australian five-year-olds so that NAPLAN can have a starting point. Imagine being this age and having to undergo the test-stress that is imposed by order of the big masters. 2017 innovation! Rotters. Only a maker of Don Dale chairs could have dreamed this up. 2. Stress tests already exists for Year 3 which contains mostly seven-years olds, the age that children start school in more sensible and advanced countries. We let it continue at this young and crucial age, even though we know it stinks. 3. NSW is going to attach the raw results of Year 9s to success or failure in the HSC, three years after. That’s a real doosy.The older the child, the bigger the chair. 4. NAPLAN is talked-about as if it was a part of school routine and always has been, whereas it was a dump–on, an uncalled-for extra, of elephantine proportions on an already over-crowded curriculum in 2008. 5. As unreliable and useless as they are, the scores are used by businesses and by private schools for admission purposes and judgemental opinions. These groups, supposedly education- canny and knowing the value of a buck, reminds one of Carson Robison : “There’s sumpin cock-eyed somewhere.”
Certainly the fear-based element of kleinism used by the testucators, is meant to cause stress and it is so unnecessary. That’s what kleinism is. As Ms. Gillard says in her autobiography, that’s why she …she and her pin-up boy….introduced it. Sad Christopher Pyne thought it should be more ‘robust’ and gave over $30 million for Direct Instruction packages to selected schools! Australia approves of the creation of stress in all places of detention [schools, gaols, migrant centres] as it did at the Don Dale Centre, where our treatment of the young was brutally exposed. Physical abuse is easier to film. that’s the only difference. We can cover-up NAPLAN effects even though the impact on the long-term mental health of our youth is not much different from that used at the Don Dale Centre.
You will have noted the increases in the numbers of parents in New York [Klein’s legacy] who are opting-out of Standardised Blanket Testing in dramatic numbers, “…despite state attempts to pressure, brow-beat, threaten, cajole and distribute a huge case of PR-spin whirtles.” [Peter Greene] More than one in five [ 20%] children in New York do not take the test. Real child-oriented Australians could make it 95% if they wished. [Kimberley College in Brisbane only tests 6 pupils out of a possible 200; and there are other schools around Australia whose almost all parents do not like the nasty thing anywhere near their school. Presumably, they talk to each others abut learning and evaluating and improving. ]
Far too many schools do not discuss evaluation or testing with their parents or distribute articles of an anti-NAPLAN educative kind. They impose data gathering on kids without reference. None seems to give parents the democratic right to chose whether they want their kids to do the tests or not. No democracy involved. Have the parents at your school heard of Sir Ken Robinson, Gene Glass, Marion Brady, Diane Ravitch, Susan Obanian or read any of their articles?
We can beat NY, All that Australian parents have to do is drop a note to their teacher “I do not want my child to undertake any standardised tests”. There are no legal no administrative complications if this simple action is taken. . That’s it. Such an action will hasten the end of NAPLAN and schools will find some decent learning to do. For sure. If enough parents do this, our kids will learn a great deal more, at a higher level; and enjoy learning!
Please accept some serious advice : OPT OUT NOW. Don’t put it off. Don’t risk putting it off. OPT OUT.