A notice I received about the upcoming standardized testing at my 8-year-old son, Levi’s, elementary school:
“To the parents of Levi Gettleman:
…your child qualifies to receive modifications and accommodations during the test, such as an alternative setting, extended time, and/or support with reading.”
It goes on to say that these “alterations” will be noted on your child’s report card and asks for a signature to accept the alternative testing accommodations.
I read the letter over a few times. Levi’s a handful, no doubt. He’s extremely bright, quite advanced verbally, and overly sensitive (no idea where that comes from). He also tends to run high on the anxiety scale. His fine motor skills are a little behind, so handwriting is grueling work for him and causes him untold frustration. I can see where he might need some extra help on an essay test. But I’m fairly certain that the Stanford 9 only requires kids to fill in those tiny, little ovals with a #2 pencil. I’m pretty sure he can handle that.
I shoot an e-mail off to the school “Instruction Specialist,” asking what type of modification Levi might require. I’m kind of confused as to why I wouldn’t want him tested in a regular classroom with the rest of his class.
In her response, she delicately alludes to Levi’s tendency to become agitated when he faces time deadlines and his urge to write all over his papers, desk and himself while he works. She explains that there is no writing on the test other than filling in the requisite ovals. If Levi takes the test in a more test-friendly environment, he’ll have scratch paper and no time limits.
I write back immediately thanking her for the information and unequivocally declining the special set-up. This seems like a no-brainer to me. But as I talk to other parents, I’m amazed at the cadre of responses I get. Most feel I should stack the deck in Levi’s favor by accepting the testing modifications and minimizing the stress. “If he was autistic,” says one friend, “ Or sight impaired, you wouldn’t hesitate to make his environment more appropriate.”
“That’s true,” I contend, “But he’s not. He’s a high-strung kid who’s got to learn how to take tests and deal with anxiety. The longer I put off that learning, the harder it’s going to be for him.”
This strikes me as another one of those weird over-protective child-rearing things we see so commonly in our generation of parents. We’re so afraid of having our kid’s suffer that we shield them from realities they need to experience in order to learn how to function in the world. We don’t let our babies learn self-soothing by crying themselves to sleep. We don’t keep score in T-ball. We allow our lives to center around our children’s needs. We only supply them with positive feedback for fear of damaging their tiny, fragile egos. Well, you know what? Babies who can’t go to sleep on their own, grow up to be people with sleep disorders. And some kids are better T-ball players than others, and their teams are gonna win every time. Losing sucks. But it happens. The truth is, sometimes life is unfair, and you’re not always the best, and if you don’t learn how to take a test when you’re in 2nd grade, you’re gonna struggle with test-taking for the rest of your life. So by being “kind” and offering my child a safer, more comfortable environment, you’re really hampering his ability to compete in tough, real-life situations. No thank you. My son is gonna need to face his own fears and anxieties and learn how to breathe through it, relax his mind and body, and focus on whatever task lies before him. I believe in him enough to let him learn those lessons.