Well, my class has finished the fifth grade math state test. Huzzah!
Instead of actually learning anything for the past two days, the kids had the pleasure of taking the Massachusetts Comprehensive Achievement System. Also known as MCAS. Also known among the kids as the Massachusetts Child Abuse System. Also known, on my morning message board as “Maybe Chinchillas Are Slimy”. Who knows?
Having spent the past three weeks cramming and drilling for this thing, there was quite a sense of excitement yesterday and today as the kids arrived at school. I put on a fabulous (if outdated) playlist of inspirational songs, and the kids got themselves all psyched up and ready to go.
And here are some of the events that really, truly, I-swear-to-God-I-am-not-making-these-up honestly happened in my room.
1. A child who was out sick yesterday and missed “Session One of the MCAS fifth grade math test” came in this morning. I greeted her with a big smile and the obvious question, “Are you feeling better?”
Her answer? “Not really.” A shrug, a smile and she sat down to take the test. And she got up and got a drink. And she got up again, holding a tissue to her mouth. I went to her, of course, and asked her what was wrong.
“My tooth is coming out.”, she said calmly, and went back to her desk to work on her math calculations while wiggling her tooth. Ten minutes later, she came to me with her tooth in her hand, her cheek streaked with blood, and fear in her eyes. “I got blood on my answer booklet!”, she whispered desperately. “Do you think they will make my answers invalid?” I reassured her and told her that her answers would most certainly be counted. She had been working so hard!
What I thought, in my head, was, “Honey, if they fail you on this test, you have the perfect answer! It wasn’t me, it was my blood on the test!”
2. Four different students came up to my desk to ask the meaning of a word on the test. The word was “integer”. It means “number”. It didn’t appear in any of the chapters of our math book this year. The kids all knew how to solve the math problem, they just didn’t know the word “integer”. I bit my tongue, swallowed hard and said (four times), “I’m sorry, honey. I can’t tell you that.”
3. I looked up to see one of my most struggling, learning disabled kids whispering to a classmate, five minutes after the testing had begun. I was so shocked when I saw them that I called the culprit up to my desk in my loudest public inquiry voice. Now, you should know that I never, ever, ever shame or embarrass a kid in front of his peers. Never, never, never!!! Until the pressures of this stupid, mindless, idiotic test forced me to lose my mind at the thought of cheating.
“What are you DOING?”, I hissed at this little boy. “What did I JUST say about talking during the test?!?”
He hung his head, and whispered, “I took a chance.”
My blood pressure rose, “You did WHAT? You knew that talking during the test was wrong and you did it anyway?” I was absolutely aghast.
“Yes”, he said simply. He wouldn’t look me in the eye.
“What in the world were you talking about?”, I demanded.
And so he told me.
“I saw that he was putting his answers in the wrong place. I know he isn’t from Massachusetts, so I thought he didn’t know what to do.” He raised his tear filled eyes to mine. “I couldn’t let him get them all wrong.”
We stood for a moment, face to face. My little student was resolute, nervous, red faced, but determined. I was filled with guilt and shame and a sense of awe. I took in a breath.
“So…”, I began slowly, making sure that everyone in the class could hear me, “You knew that it was against the rules to talk, but you took a chance of being caught, of getting in trouble, so that your friend would not fail?”
He shrugged, then nodded his head, never looking directly at me.
I thought my heart would break.
I put a hand on his shoulder, urging him to look me in the eye.
“Honey”, I said, through the lump in my throat, “You are a hero. You risked getting punished so that you could do the right thing. I am incredibly proud of you.”
He smiled and went back to his desk to finish the test.
And I am left with a whole pile of questions.
Why on earth would we design a system that makes it wrong to help a friend?
Why in the world would we create a testing system that is so complicated that kids might put their answers on the wrong page?
What are we really testing when we refuse to define the words on the test?
What are we doing to our teachers when we make them so nervous about “cheating” that they feel compelled to publicly embarrass a student this way?
I don’t have the answers, but I certainly have the questions.