Notes from the Far Reaches of Insanity: Standardized Tests

Across New York State next week kids will be taking standardized tests.

They’re the “new tests” required for the new Common Core Curriculum.

Apparently they’re a big deal.

On Wednesday we got an email with a letter and testing schedule attached from the principal. Yesterday a paper copy of the same letter and schedule came home.

The letter explained that the tests were very, very, very important. “Every child in school in New York State must be tested,” it said. “Every child in New York State will be tested on these days. There will be no exceptions, as in the past.”

In other words, parents cannot “opt out.” You have no rights in this matter. Your child will be tested.


I took standardized tests when I was in grade school, too.

When I was in elementary school I was compliant. I took the tests as directed. Somewhere, in a shoebox in a closet I still have the standardized result sheets from those tests. I was above average, of course.

In Junior High I stopped being compliant.

In 7th or 8th grade I realized that filling in little dots with a #2 pencil on a computer form was stupid. I gave the standardized test people a failing grade for their sheer stupidity.

Instructions for the standardized tests in those days was read over the P.A. system. Teachers, who were otherwise fairly reasonable human beings, were required to suspend their humanity, stop teaching, and hover around the room making sure everyone complied with instructions being read mechanically from a packaged script over the speaker. The instructions at the beginning of each exam were the same. How to fill in little dots on a computer form with a #2 pencil. Step by step. How to fill in the dots representing the letters of your first name. Then your last name. Your grade. On it went. It took 10 minutes to fill in your name and grade.

At the time I guessed that people who couldn’t figure out how to fill in the dots with the letters of their name were probably the people they were really looking for. So I started filling in random dots. Then I started filling in whichever dots on the grid made a little spaceship pattern. Then I started filling in the whole exam form with dots that made pictures.

It didn’t matter. The computer was too stupid to figure out what my name was. I don’t have any results sheets in my closet for those years.

For the past week, homework has been practice problems for the test. Any school administrator who says “Yes we have standardized tests, but we don’t teach to the test” — that is bullshit. They teach to the test. It’s not their fault. They’re required to. And they’re required to lie about it to keep their jobs. Don’t hold it against them.

The letter that came home was full of advise to parents about how to minimize the stress of these tests. It gave the impression that people at school are pretty stressed about them. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

I asked Silas, “Are people at school pretty stressed out about these tests?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Well,” I told him. “You don’t have to worry about it. Just do the best you can. It’s no big deal. It’s more about the teachers than about you.”

Mark Twain was on the right track. “God made idiots first,” he said. “That was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

Twain wasn’t around to see that even school boards were only practice for standardized test companies.