“I took a chance.”

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  I put on a fabulous (if outdated) playlist of inspirational songs, and the kids got themselves all psyched up and ready to go.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.

27 thoughts on ““I took a chance.”

  1. Wow! What an incredible post that is heart breaking, entertaining, and thought-provoking to read. Your questions are on target and should be read by those making the testing decisions. It’s amazing how common your examples are. When my son was in third grade his standardized math test score was weak and I knew it had to do with what he told me when he arrived home that day, “Mom, there was a whole section that asked me to find the product. I didn’t know what a product was so I just skipped that part.” He didn’t know the term, product, but he did know how to multiply! Hang in there and know that in spite of the testing nonsense you are doing wonderful things for your students and teaching them lasting lessons (outside of the tested curriculum).


    • Thank you, Jamie.
      It is just so increasingly difficult to put kids through this nonsense, watching their self confidence simply crumple through it all. I am hoping to be the catalyst for a big parent uprising……


  2. This should be in every PTA newsletter in the country. And tatooed on the backs of the brainless idiots who started this whole testing movement to begin with.

    Well done!


    • The part that makes me the most crazy is that we differentiate out teaching every single day, using multiple methods of reaching the kids. Then we are compelled to test them using the same exact test in the same exact way. It literally makes no sense. Good luck to your son! Tell him I say “Solidarity!”


  3. MCAS has the kids so worked up. Mine are so anxious and nervous on MCAS morning, and even the night before. My daughter picks her clothes out the night before to ensure that she will not be late in the morning and risk starting her test late. My son has been going to bed voluntarily a half hour early for the last 2 nights. I can’t stand MCAS and the pressure that it puts on them. How can they do their best when they are so nerved up? And GOOD FOR YOU for praising the student who was so worried that his friend would do poorly that he risked breaking the rules to stand up for a friend. The thought of it makes me cry…for the pressure he was under, for the mental dilemma he must have had as he broke the rules of no talking to help his friend, and for the lump you had to swallow. If you get a chance and it too isn’t against the rules, give that little hero a hug.


    • Oh, you know me, Beth! I hugged the heck of the poor guy! I’m so sorry that your kids are so nervous! I have had kids cry, throw up and shake from head to toe over this thing. And from the perspective of a special educator who administered tests for 25 years, I can tell you unequivocally that this one has no validity. Did you know that the same people who make the test (and are raking in the millions) also sell text books that are “aligned” to the test? Cozy little arrangement, huh?


  4. All excellent questions. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers either. I remember when I took the LSAT, one of my friends told me at the break that he’d just realized he had been putting the answers in the wrong place. I think he intended to skip one and then everything got messed up. He was a really smart guy, but that LSAT certainly didn’t show it. I was so upset for him, it took me awhile to settle into the afternoon test session. So much stress over these stupid tests.
    FYI, I tried to comment on your post from yesterday about the test prep, but it said “Page could not be found.”


    • I actually had one student a couple of years ago who realized after an hour and a half of testing that all of his answers were one row off; he had to erase and redo them, and the other 24 kids had to sit in silence for another hour plus while he did.
      I was not “allowed” to help.
      And sorry about that missing post: It was supposed to go on teacherdreams.wordpress.com, so I moved it over there.


  5. I am keeping my child home next year. We do a test for english and maths. It used to be at aged 8 and 12 approx. Now it is yearly! My daughter is severely dyslexic and has dyscalculia. These tests are to assess children’s progress and also to calculate the number of resource teachers needed in a school. But they know she is dyslexic, so why repeat the test year after year. She is struggling to read the English so how can she tick the correct sentence? She just guesses everything. In Maths she has a number square normally but not in the test, so she cant calculate any of the answers. It is a complete waste of time. However the biggest issue is what it does to her confidence. Now my rant is complete!


    • Oh, good for you!!!! I so wish that more of our parents would simply refuse to have the kids take the stupid tests!
      So many of my students have the multiplication chart available every day, then have to lose it on test day. I teach them to ask me to clarify the words, then I can do it on test day.
      I KNOW that my learning disabled kids are unlikely to pass, no matter how hard they try. Why do I have to put them through it?!
      Please rant to your local elected officials, please! They won’t listen to educators, but perhaps they will listen to parents.


  6. Wow. Just wow. I’m going to go share this now. I just had a conversation about the amount of money that goes into the testing, and how much money the test making companies donate to politicians. Made me sad.


      • Funny, you know, because I think a lot of parents feel like no one will listen to them, because they are only parents, not “professionals”. Maybe no one listens to anyone unless they’re being handed a stack of money. 😦

        I hope you’re successful at fomenting the uprising though, I think the world would be a lot better if there were a few more uprisings, and this is certainly a righteous cause!


  7. Nightmare.

    Perhaps you could play the bureaucrats at their own game?

    Why not

    … write to whoever it is manages the tests and ask for a copy of the official guidance for what to do when tests include words and concepts that weren’t included in the curriculum (as highly qualified professionals, they will obviously have planned for this eventuality). Hint: cc’ing the correspondence to elected representatives, local news media and (of course) posting it on your blog can concentrate the official mind wonderfully).


  8. Oh, we have done all of that. The answer? “You aren’t using the right materials!” And they nudge us to buy one of the new 10,000 dollar textbook/cd/online curricula that are manufactured by (you guessed it) the same guys who make the tests.
    Elected officials, who have been hearing from individuals and groups of teachers for year have no use for those of us out here in the trenches who “complain”. Trust me, we have been trying for years.
    I am very, very sad.


  9. The pendulum is, as near as I can see, as far as it can possibly get to the right. Of course it won’t hang there. Pressures–after all this just defies common sense–will force back the other way.
    …whereupon it will swish right past that centre line that balances all modes of assessment right to the far left where, oh, I don’t know…anything goes???
    Balance. Is that too much to ask?
    By the way, I loved every bit of your post.


    • Thanks! I so hope that you are right in this. Every time I think it can’t get more rigid and proscribed, the pendulum inches its way just a little further to the right……


      • But somewhere there must be balance. Look we all know we’re not self-employed; we don’t get to choose exactly what it is we teach–that’s a decision that needs to be made by ‘the people’ and since we’re all in this together we should combine resources and talents. The advantages are immense: standardization means people can move around, means that a quality curriculum exists and means that good quality materials can be made for a larger market, etc.

        But then THOSE people get involved. The ones who disrespect teachers and figure they have to be watched, every minute of the day, the ones who think this is a competition and that WE need to WIN with larger test scores, oh, yeah, and the ones that think test scores are everything.

        The result: squeeze! Every minute has to be accounted for, everything scripted and everything measured with multiple choice tests.

        Don’t those dummies realize that intelligent people will push back–HARD?


  10. “I took a chance.”

    Oh. My. Word. How precious is that?! What a great story, Moms, I’m so glad you shared. He made my heart smile! (The whole testing process, eh, not so much, but keep fighting the good fight and keep taking chances!)


    • This boy is such a great kid, in every way. He came in yesterday, the last of our six state testing days and said straight out, “I stayed up to celebrate for the Bruins last night. I probably won’t remember a thing.” And I said, “Good for you! You gotta have priorities!”


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