Coffee With Control of Your Educational Destiny

Would we have Coffee With Sophia Stevens?

Cammy:  Well, maybe not coffee, since we’re talking about an 8th grader (and in 8th grade, my mother was still telling me coffee would stunt my growth…), but tea, soda, ice-cream–whatever works.  And yes, her parents can come along because I don’t want to be creepy (and because I want to give them kuddos for having an impressive daughter).  Any which way you cut it,  I want to give this young woman a high five, buy her some manner of beverage or snack, and assure her that she is not alone in her feelings about standardized tests.

When I came across this article on the Washington Post site Eighth grader designs standardized test that slams standardized tests, I scrambled to click through and read it.  I have zero use for standardized testing in schools, due in large part to the experiences I had with them during my own school years.  And from this article, it’s clear that Sophia Stevens is in the same boat.  She’s a good student, a good test taker–but she’s got no use for the system standardized testing imposes on kids.

And she’s right.

She uses the format of a standard “reading passage” section to convey her concerns about the wasted educational opportunities, the lack of accurate measure of success and the undue stress it puts on teachers and students alike.  My form of protest was not so witty (to prep for the writing section we were told to find a topic and write a persuasive essay–I wrote a persuasive essay about how prepping for these tests was a waste of my educational time), so I give extra props to Miss Stevens for turning the format on itself.  It’s inspired.  As one standardized testing hater to another, I’d like to ask her how long she’s felt this way.  What made her realize this whole mess was a problem?  Is she angry, or just annoyed?  Are there topics in particular that she feels are missed because of the focus on these exams?

While the sad truth is that The Powers That Be are no more likely to take Sophia’s creatively-expressed concerns any more to heart than the administrators at my school did my essay, I want to encourage her to keep saying it.  She is far from alone. And if the bureaucracy of education would fire a few synapses, they would listen to students like Sophia who are smart enough to pass these stupid tests and to point out what what a waste those tests are. It may be futile, but let the record show, that one bright girl tried to point out the stupidity of it all.


Kristy: Absolutely (and as someone who was drinking coffee in the 8th grade, if she wants a cup, I’ll totally buy it for her). I was told not all that long ago by a family member that the only reason I don’t support standardized tests is because I don’t care about kids. Yes. He was absolutely correct. I don’t care about kids. That’s why I spent two years teaching them for less than minimum wage and no health insurance. Because I just don’t care.

No wait… that’s not it… I oppose standardized tests because I’m the person who has to deal with these kids when they get out of high school still lacking basic skills like analytical thinking, creating a thesis statement, and putting together grammatically correct sentences. This determination that everything must be quantified on a standard scale is creating a generation of poorly programmed robots. An ad running in Indiana right now announces that one in three high school graduates in the state has to take remedial courses in college. It doesn’t mention the fact that where I teach, one of the largest universities in the state, students that should be in remedial classes don’t wind up taking them because the classes are overflowing.

I really applaud Sophia not just for realizing what crap these tests are but for coming up with such an ingenious, creative way to critique them. While we’re on the subject of creativity, I especially love that she points out the lack of creative thinking that results from test taking. I’m honestly not sure our society values creative thinking, which is upsetting. Not only is creative thinking at the core of the arts (and no matter what those who hold the purse strings in academia will tell you, the arts ARE important), I have it on good authority it’s an essential skill to progress beyond drudge level in the hard sciences. But yeah… why should we bother encouraging that in our society. I’m sure we have all the art and science we need.

For the record, I’m fairly awesome at test taking myself. I’m someone who works best under pressure and my brain just gets the system at work behind those suckers. You want proof standardized tests are a joke? I scored in the 95th percentile on the math portion of the GRE. And I barely passed high school math.

So yes, Sophia, you deserve a tasty treat of your choice on It’s My TV, It’s My Peanut Butter’s dime (by which I mean Cammy’s dime, because I’ve been too busy not caring about young people to earn a dime).