The Time I Lost a Friend Over Standardized Testing

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As a kid, I hated testing. I didn’t test well, either because I got lazy and didn’t study, I knew the material and psyched myself out, or I mismanaged my time on the test and didn’t answer all the questions. Regardless of the reasons, tests stressed me out so badly that I’d get sick. My stomach would twist itself into knots, like it was trying to wring itself out, my heart would pound, and I would get terrible headaches. It made me sick, and though it was “all in my head”, it manifested real symptoms in my body. I never had panic attacks though, so my anxiety was mostly dismissed. But I fucking hated tests.

Before I tell my story, here’s a little detail. Starting in Grade 3 (8-years-old), Ontario public school students undergo provincial and national standardized testing. Most of these tests are provided by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), “an independent agency that creates and administers large-scale assessments to measure Ontario students’ achievement in reading, writing and math…” This is repeated for various subjects in grades 6, and 9 (plus the OSSLT the same year, and others). The EQAO tells parents, teachers, and students that the tests are for accountability on the school district’s part (which, in Ontario, is separated by county), as a feedback tool for the administration, and for national comparisons. The idea is that it’s supposed to be used to improve the teaching methods and district policies, without affecting the individual student. Students and parents are told that the test absolutely does not count towards the student’s grade, but that it can be used in conjunction with their report cards and other tests “to help evaluate student learning and determine what additional support may be needed”. Ok.

So, in Grade 3, I took the test. The weeks of prepping, the intensity of the teachers, and the long, boring, silent, stressful test was just too much for me. I vowed to never do it again. When Grade 6 rolled around, I panicked. I knew the drill, and I managed to work myself up at the first mention of EQAO testing. This wasn’t a test you could study for, they told us. This is a test of your current knowledge, they told us. Don’t make us look stupid, they told us. Ok.

The more we prepped, the more stressed I got. Do these sample tests, they told us. “Why? If you’re teaching us what we should know, why do we have to take practice tests?” To know the type of questions they’re going to ask, they told us. It was boring, monotonous, bizarrely abstract material that we really didn’t cover throughout the year, but boy did we cram during the months leading up to the test. Endless worksheets. Ok.

My stomach started its slow twist, and eventually, I was writhing in pain. By the time the test came, I was a mess. “I can’t go, I’m sick!” I said, as I laid in bed. I missed the testing days (yes, multiple), and thought I was in the clear. Sadly, I was mistaken.

“All Grade 3 [6, and 9] students who attend publicly funded schools and who follow The Ontario Curriculum are required by The Education Quality and Accountability Office Act to write the Grade 3 [6, and 9] assessment.”

Uh Oh.

“If your child is absent on the days the Grade 6 assessment is administered, the school can make arrangements to have your child write the assessment when he or she returns, but only within the designated two-week assessment period.”

Well, fuck me.

As soon as I got back to school, they told me I had to sit in a separate room, and do each part of the test. “But I’ll miss regular class work,” I argued. They didn’t care. I had to do the test. They sat me in a room by myself, with a teacher to proctor. “I’m just one kid, does it really matter?” Yes. Do the test. “Can I just be back in class with the rest of my friends?” No. Here’s a bottle of water. Do the test. So, I refused. That was the kind of kid I was. It seemed entirely unfair that I had to be separated from my peers and miss class work (that I didn’t get excused from, and I’d have to catch up on) to take this mandated test that didn’t count for anything. I was right pissed. In the end, I doodled on the test – even though I knew the answers – purely out of defiance. My 11-year-old self was done with the administrative bullshit, but noncompliance doesn’t go over so well for an 11-year-old.

3 days later, when I finally got to spend time with my friends again, something had changed. They wouldn’t talk to me. For days, I tried to figure out why. Finally, one rainy morning, as we huddled under a vestibule to stay out of the rain during recess, I asked them, “Did I do something? I know I was gone for a few days… what did I miss?” They mumbled for a bit, then my best friend turned to me and said, “You didn’t take the test.” What?

“No, I did,” I said.

“No,” she said, “You doodled.” My heart jumped into my throat. How did she even know that? These tests are supposed to be private. “My mom said that she talked to Mrs. F. Do you know that without your high score, our whole school is going to get a worse grade? Thanks a lot.” They all looked to her for a cue, then it was back to the silent treatment. My high score? How does anyone know my scores on my assignments except… the teacher? She did not like my refusal to participate, and apparently made it known to my friends’ parents. When? How? At the time, I never thought parents and teachers co-mingled, but I knew after that. Teachers are human, who interact in the human world, with other humans. Nuts, right? Parents are also humans who interact in the human world, and sometimes, they meet teachers and have human conversations. Sometimes, those conversations involve their children/students. At any given time, both parents and teachers can be assholes. Needless to say, the rest of the year was hell for me, and then I moved schools.

Yes, I did do the following years of standardized testing. Yes, I got sick every time. No, I was never allowed to skip another test. Yes, I permanently lost a friend over a government-mandated test that counted for nothing, and which did exactly zilch to improve anything anywhere. Yes,”teach to test” is still a huge issue in the education-sphere worldwide. No, my children will not endure standardized testing if they continue with the current methods. The end.