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Julie Slotnik Sturm Headshot

The Night Before the ELA Test

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The mood in my home was unusually calm last night; could there be an upside to THE TEST?

Testing season has begun. This year, April Fools' Day marked the first of three days of English Language Arts (ELA) testing for NYC public school children in Grades 3-8. Each day, the students, my 4th grader included, will sit for 70 minutes of questions: multiple choice, short answer and extended written responses. This will be followed by 210 more minutes of Math testing over three days at the end of the month. That is seven total hours of tests for kids as young as eight years old.

There are many things I don't like about the THE TEST. I don't like that, in an effort to develop critical thinking and writing skills, every piece of my son's writing (and those of his peers) now include the words "for example" and "subsequently." All traces of their creative voices have been replaced by "two details from the text".

I don't like Pearson Education, Inc., the for-profit company that has a $32 million five-year contract to produce New York's standardized tests for our kids.

I don't like that my friend's daughter, a confident, smart 10-year-old, has become stressed out and asks her parents, "am I going to get into middle school if I do bad on THE TEST?"

But Monday I noticed something else, something I did like. When school let out there was a good vibe in the air. A day that started rainy and cold turned sunny and warm by 3:00 p.m. There were more parents in the schoolyard at pick-up time than usual. Carroll Park in Brooklyn was packed with elementary and middle school kids. Everyone stayed later than usual. My son's teacher didn't assign any homework the night before THE TEST. Not even the usual 40 minutes of reading. Maybe other teachers did the same. The by-product of all the worry and anticipation seemed to be a feeling of relief, even before the first circle had been bubbled in. The mood was a little "last day of school-ish." The kids knew the end was near. Parents did too.

At home, there was an unspoken understanding: keep things calm and smooth for the child who celebrated his ninth birthday just a few months earlier, but would soon be deciphering tricky passages about Sacagawea and the Lewis and Clark expedition. I cooked a full dinner with representatives from all major food groups, which both of my kids ate most of. I made a conscious effort to sit with them while they ate, not jump up and down to unload the dishwasher or check email. My son seemed on board with the "calm plan" too. There was minimal protest when his request for a sugary dessert was denied. His 4th grade teachers, whom he adores, specifically suggested no sweets the night before THE TEST. I only had to ask him twice to get into pajamas; usually it's a battle. There was only one Lego-provoked argument with his younger brother. Maybe the six-year old was on board with the plan too.

Eventually I caved on the sweets. We all had a few Thin Mints, courtesy of our Girl Scout neighbor (who is in private school and not taking THE TEST), and then called it a night.

My son still chose to read in bed, for pleasure. Not because it was assigned.