I picked up my fourth-grade son from school the other day after he had stayed for a class to review for the upcoming New York State English language arts test. This class was designed to help the children understand and complete a test to assess their reading and writing comprehension.
The first thing my son said to me when he jumped into the car was, "We learned how to relax today! And it was so cool! First you close your eyes and imagine your feet are heavy and warm. . . ."
The whole conversation was rather humorous as I listened to him explain this relaxation technique to me, but then I realized what he really was saying and I became concerned. My son was in a class that needed to teach him how to relax, not because he was hyperactive or unruly, but because he had to take a test.
I think it's wonderful that this teacher took the time to show these bright, energetic young minds how to relax before taking a test. But these are 9-year-olds. Shouldn't they already be relaxed? When did taking a test become so tense that we need to teach 9-year-olds how to relax before they attempt it? New York State has become so intent on standards that it has pushed our children into relaxation classes because they are stressing out.
I thought that stress was for parents, not for children.
This stressful test lasts three days. Session one, which involves reading five passages and then answering 28 multiple-choice questions, lasts 45 minutes.
Session two is in two parts. Part one, which involves listening to a passage and then answering questions with two short responses and one long response in basic essay format, lasts 30 minutes. Part two involves writing a composition in 30 minutes.
Session three targets reading comprehension. The children must read two related passages and then give three short responses and one longer response. All of that in 60 minutes.
I don't know if the average adult could accomplish this feat. Granted, these children have been preparing for this test for a number of months, but is this really necessary? Why is this test given under such rigorous conditions? The average person takes more time to construct a friendly letter than these children have to complete a test that could possibly change the course of their education.
Watching my two children as they grow up, I'm afraid that if we don't stop and reconsider what this type of testing is doing to them, we may end up inflicting damage that is irreversible. The stress level involved with these timed tests is extremely high - high enough to induce sleepless nights and reduce immune levels, resulting in possible sickness.
I believe New York State needs to remember what is truly important to everyday life. Is it critical that our children can write an essay with perfect spelling, punctuation and grammar in 30 minutes? Or is it more important that they have the ability to write it at all?
I believe that if we keep pursuing such rigorous testing, our youth will miss out on the very thing they can never get back - their childhood. Relaxation is supposed to be normal to children, not stress and tension. They will get enough of that when they go to college.
ANDI PUNTORIERO works for Barnes and Noble and lives in Cheektowaga.
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