It Gets Worse: A Parent's Perspective on High-Stakes Testing

I have experienced standardized testing from every angle. As a student, I remember that clammy feeling of anxiety creep over me as I struggled to fill in those tiny bubbles. I was/am/and always will be a horrid test-taker. I got into A&M on my class rank and extra-curricular involvement (NOT my SAT score--trust me). As a high school teacher, I remember that panic-filled moment of desperation as I pleaded with my kids to "take this test SERIOUSLY" and "do their BEST" because their "FUTURES were depending on it." (Because, of course, teenagers respond well to that kind of pep talk). As a TAKS tutor, I remember that suffocating pressure as I encouraged those seniors before their LAST CHANCE to pass the test so that they could walk across the stage and graduate with their friends. (It doesn't get any more high-stakes than that.) As an elementary librarian, I now see testing from a little kid perspective, and let me tell you, the stress and anxiety are palpable. And heart-breaking.  I spent this morning patting backs, giving high-fives, and leading deep-breathing exercises while the 4th & 5th graders waited to go to the restroom before the test began. If we could somehow harness all of the stress and anxiety on testing days in Texas, I have no doubt that we could solve our nation's energy crisis.

And I thought it couldn't get any worse. But now I'm a parent of a fourth grader, which is prime testing age in Texas,  and I feel like I'm sending my sweet baby girl to the testing slaughter. Unfortunately, I have passed on my test anxiety gene, and her bouts of worry and anxiety have been creeping in since her first go-round with STAAR last year. There have been tears and countless prayers for peace and confidence. As we sat at McDonald's at 6:45 this morning for her "healthy" pre-STAAR breakfast (don't judge--she had apple slices with her McGriddle), I couldn't help but think, "I am so sorry that we are doing this to you." As I encouraged and coached her through the testing strategies, I knew in my heart that she was going to do just fine. She has wonderful teachers who have prepared her for this moment. But I HATE the stress and pressure that these tests cause her to feel. She is ten years old, and it makes my Mama Bear instinct come out.

I know what some of you are thinking..."Why don't you just take her out of public school and teach her yourself? You have a teaching degree, after all. Stop complaining about 'the system' and just leave it."

It's not that easy, and I don't think that's the answer. Not for us, anyway.

There is a reason that I work in public education. I believe in its power for all kids.  I believe that my daughters will be best-served by attending public school rather than by me homeschooling them.  I do not write this post as a whiny educator who beats the drum for testing reform even though there is PLENTY of research out there to support the cause. Believe me, I could, and maybe I will. But this is not the time.

I write this from the place of a parent who is ANGRY about what testing is doing to my child. I write this as a parent who has to PRAY with her daughter about her anxiety over state-mandated tests. I write this from a parent's perspective because now I see the effects of standardized testing from the other side of the desk, and it makes me mad.

Let me just stop and put the disclaimer out there: I do not blame any of this on school districts. They are victims of "the system" because of how test results are tied to funding (and that's an entirely different blog post). I fully support my school district and will tow the party line to prepare students for these tests. Maybe that makes me a hypocrite, just another cog in the machine, but I love my job, and I want to keep it. Once again, this is me writing as a PARENT. I do not want to be on the news as the crazy librarian who fired off a blog post bashing standardized testing. Okay, maybe there's some truth in that...

Sadly, I don't see eminent change on the horizon, so for now the solution will come in learning how to cope. I will teach Landry (& Peyton when her time comes) how to deal with the anxiety and pressure in healthy ways. Unfortunately in this high-stakes society, there will always be a big test. If not now, in college. If not in college, in grad school.  Honestly, I feel much better about that pressure coming at the age of 20 rather than 10. But here is what really gets me. There are kids out there whose parents don't help them cope with the stress. They don't take them to breakfast on test days. (Actually, there are kids who are lucky if they get breakfast at all.) They don't talk them through the strategies. They don't know how to help them navigate the choppy seas of high-stakes testing. That's the teacher side of me talking again, and it's sometimes hard to separate it from my Mom side.

Even though we live in a test-crazed culture, I don't think the answer is to relent to it. I think the answer is to be relentless in what we desire as parents and teachers. Also, the cry for true change will not be heard from educators; it needs to come from parents in the form of VOTES (but again, that's another post for another day). So for now I will gnash my teeth and bemoan "the system," but there will come a time to take action and try to change it. I hold on to the hope that in the next few years, we will come to our senses, arm ourselves with the research, and break our silence to demand BETTER for our children. That is my deepest hope.

Until then, prayer and the occasional McGriddle will see us through.


  1. Well put, Ammianne! It's hard to try and be both the teacher and the parent on days like today. I said a lot of prayers individually for each one of my students. I prayed not only for their test anxieties and for them to remember their strategies, but I also prayed for their futures in this world where testing determines where they go next.
    Thanks for your voice!

  2. And people think there is no prayer in public school! They have no idea the amount of praying that goes on...Love it, Leslie. Your students are so blessed to have you as their teacher.


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