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The World of Standardized Testing
Tasha sat at the table, a bowl of steaming oatmeal sitting in front of her, her feet tapping the ground nervously in an erratic rhythm. Her flaming red hair was carefully tied into two pigtails with golden ribbons. Her hands clasped each other tightly under the table, resting on top of the skirt of her new dress. It was the first day of kindergarten, the day Tasha had been looking forward to since before she could remember.
Tasha always loved art. From the time she could grab a crayon with her tiny fist, she was constantly drawing new masterpieces--on newspapers, on napkins, and--occasionally--on walls. At the age of three, she decided to be an artist when she grew up. Her mother told her she had to work hard in school in order for this to happen.
Tasha couldn’t wait to go to school and get started on her journey towards her dream. Now, on the first day of school, she was finally one step closer to her lifelong goal.
Tasha skipped all the way to school, twirling round and round, stomping on dry, brown leaves, enjoying the crunch they made under her shoes. The schoolyard was busy with children playing with each other, waiting until the school doors opened so they could go inside.
Instead of playing with the other children, Tasha set her backpack on the ground by an oak tree and sat down on the large, coarse roots at the base of the tree. She stared at the front doors of the school, waiting for the bell to ring and announce the start of school. She willed the time to go by more quickly, but the more she wished it was time to go in, the longer the wait seemed. It seemed to be hours before she heard the clear, sweet ring of the school bell.
Tasha stood up, gathered her things, brushed her dress free of dust, and allowed herself to drift along with the sea of bodies rushing toward the door. She stepped inside the school, almost without realizing it, the crowd around her was so thick. A teacher, who was directing the students to their new classrooms, guided Tasha to an unassuming doorway. The doorway was plain, colorless, uninviting. Tasha took a deep breath and turned the doorknob.
When Tasha entered her classroom, her heart skipped a beat. Her teacher was looking at her with a stern frown, as if Tasha had just done something terribly wrong. His gray hair was nonexistent at the top of his head, but two single strands stood straight up and twitched whenever he moved his head. This reminded Tasha of a desert cactus, but the teacher’s countenance kept her from laughing aloud. His mustache drooped downward at both sides of his mouth. His eyes pierced Tasha’s face as she took her seat behind a desk in the center of the room.
As the other children filed in, the only sounds audible were the children’s footsteps and the ticking of the clock hanging on the back wall. The children chose their desks quietly, hardly even glancing at each other. They were all just as nervous as Tasha.
The room remained silent until the bell rang a second time, signalling the beginning of class. The teacher stood up from his desk and boomed in a deep voice, “Good morning, class. My name is Mr. Schnozzelbonker. Today we will start to prepare you for the nationwide placement tests at the end of the year. This year, we will be studying the subjects of math, reading, writing, science, and history. The thirty-minute lunch period will be devoted to quiet studying. There will be tutoring after class for anyone who does poorly on our practice tests. I hope you will rise to the challenge of the next thirteen years.”
As the teacher moved to the chalkboard and told the children to copy down the ABC’s ten times in cursive, Tasha’s mind was spinning furiously. What? No recess? No art or music class? I thought I was preparing for my future, not for some useless standardized tests. She lowered her head onto her arms, disappointed.
As Mr. Schnozzelbonker wrote down the ABC’s on the chalkboard for his students to copy, his thoughts were turned back to his teaching days twenty years ago, in the 2040’s. Before, the standardized tests were hardly anything to worry about. His students did their best, and their best was usually enough to satisfy the demands of the government. The students were able to have fun in the playground, learn with hands-on activities, do fun science experiments. Now, because of new laws, the school administration had left him little time to do any of those activities. He had noticed the negative effect of “teaching the test” on his students and had at first held onto hands-on activities and recess, but going against the system became more and more difficult. Eventually, he had given up and had submitted to how the school administration wanted him to teach.
Now, Mr. Schnozzelbonker still saw the negative effects of too much testing. Ever since the increased emphasis on standardized testing, his student’s scores had gradually dropped, not increased. The added pressures hindered their ability to think for themselves and interact with others. In his personal opinion, playtime and fun activities could teach language, science, and math more efficiently and extensively than he ever could with lectures.
Mr. Schnozzelbonker finished writing the lowercase letter “z” on the chalkboard and turned to face his class. Most of the children seemed to be hard at work, copying down each letter carefully. He then noticed a little girl with fiery red hair pulled into two pigtails, her head on her desk, obviously not learning anything. Sighing inwardly, he thought of how he used to have exciting lessons that all the children loved. Now, he could do nothing but stick to the curriculum and be, in the minds of all the children, boring.
After lunch, which Tasha spent staring at a textbook, trying to remember the difference between a pentagon, a hexagon, and an octagon, Mr. Schnozzelbonker handed out the class’s first practice test on reading.
Tasha glanced through her test. There were questions on three passages. One passage was about scientific discoveries leading up to Newton’s Laws. Another was about the creation of traffic signs. The third detailed the life of an artist whom Tasha had never heard of. Tasha yawned involuntarily. She could not see how any of those topics were important in her life as a five-year-old. She then braced herself to face the struggle of staying awake while reading the passages.
The teacher was no help. He seemed to be smirking at the class, enjoying the children’s sufferings. The two gray hairs at the top of his head twitched menacingly, daring anybody to laugh.
As the last child placed his test on the teacher’s desk, the bell rang, The children bolted from their seats to the door, eager to go home. They brushed past their teacher’s desk, ignoring him, not one saying “goodbye” or “thank you”.
Mr. Schnozzelbonker thought to himself, That was a waste of time. He started to clean the board.
Tasha ran all the way home, disappointed, tears threatening to fall from her eyes. She opened the front door of her house, stepped inside, then slammed the door shut. She beelined straight for her room, ignoring her mother’s “How was school today?”
Tasha sat on her bed, her thoughts whirling angrily. School was colorless, lifeless. She could not see how any of the things she was taught would help her in the future, apart from helping her take more standardized tests. School could not prepare her for life as an artist. The teacher’s lessons seemed bereft of all excitement, of all creativity.
Tasha glanced up and saw her art supplies sitting invitingly on her desk. Moving automatically, almost unconsciously, she walked to the desk, took out a sheet of clean, white paper, and started to draw, pouring her heart out onto the sheet of paper, turning her anger into colors and her frustration into shapes.
As her anger and frustration faded away, Tasha came to a conclusion about her life as a kindergartner. She would show that Mr. Snot-o-bonker, or whatever his name was. She would be the best in class, doing all of her work with enthusiasm, and she would somehow still find time to draw every single day. She would make class interesting, and she would become the best artist she could be.
The next day, Tasha marched confidently to school. Instead of dancing around and taking time to enjoy the walk, she marched with a purpose. At the playground in front of the school, a few children were still playing, snatching a few final moments of freedom before entering the prison of the school walls. The school doors were already open when she reached them, so she strode quickly inside. She swiftly entered her classroom. Her teacher and those children who had already arrived stared at her as if she had grown a rhinoceros’s tusk in place of a nose.
“Good morning,” Tasha told her teacher. After a moment, Mr. Schnozzelbonker smiled stiffly in return. Tasha took her seat, the same one she had sat in the day before, and hummed contentedly to herself as her classmates filed into the room.
Once again, Mr. Schnozzelbonker had the students copy down the ABC’s in cursive. This time, Tasha added a colorful illustration to each letter on her paper, each picture corresponding to the letter it represented. For the letter C, Tasha drew a cactus with two thorns on the top, adding shadows that made it look like the cactus had a face. Today was going to be a great day.