Today is D-Day in my house. The day that has worried my son for almost 2 years now. The day he has been preparing for and stressed out about all school year. It marks the beginning of a state mandated 2-day testing marathon for third graders (and the second round for fourth and fifth graders) known as the STAAR test.
The STAAR test is apparently “the hardest thing in the whole entire world.” I know this because my son told me some fifth graders told him that last year. He asked me what the hardest thing in the world was that I had ever done, and after I told him it was having kids and being a mom he corrected me by saying he heard on the bus ride home that it was the STAAR.
Because of this test, I’ve seen my well-adjusted, confident, cheery, social, bright, eager-to-learn, always A or A/B honor roll, oldest son’s view towards education start to dim. I’ve had to rub his back some Sunday nights because he’s complained of stomach cramps. I’ve had to encourage him to go to school some mornings. I’ve had to find a way to rebuild his confidence when he’s brought home failing grades on his practice tests for the reading part of the STAAR. Reading stamina tests, they call them. Doesn’t that name alone make you want to never read again? If I had to read for stamina as a kid I don’t think I’d ever pick up a book after I left school.
It’s been a hard year for us because of this test. For a time, I, too, was guilty of the super-performance-on-the-STAAR frenzy. I was emphasizing to him the importance of doing well on it every time I’d get updates on his lackluster progress, so much so that I even started to stress myself out about his upcoming performance. I’ve always expected my kids to work hard, do their best in school, and challenge themselves to bring home good grades on their report cards–and they are well aware of this. Though I realize it may change as they get older, right now this is an easily attainable goal for each of them. I felt it was natural for me to expect this when it comes to the STAAR test, as well. But the more I would check his work on his practice tests, the more I realized how unnecessarily tricky a lot of the questions are and wonder about the point of all of this. I’d sit there and think, okay, answer A could be correct, but answer C could also be correct…but which one is the MOST correct…hmmmm, good question. Then I’d thank God that I made it through school when I did and for the fact that I never have to take one of those tests again.
After months of reviewing, practicing, testing, stressing, and pep talks I realized that a little honesty on my part may help my son (and me) in the long run. I actually don’t care how well my son does on this test; I realized I was only concerned because everyone else has made it such a big fat deal.
As I was saying goodnight to him one night, he started talking about the concerns he had about the dreaded STAAR. I sat down and told him that I didn’t care what he ends up making on this test and that it is no way an indication of his intelligence. His eyes widened with surprise and I continued to tell him that no matter what the results, he is still smart and a fantastic student. He is still an excellent reader and great at math no matter what happens during these two days. He’s an amazing artist, a creative thinker, a gifted athlete, and has a wonderfully curious mind. Combine all of that with his strong determination and fun-loving personality and he can succeed in anything he chooses. I told him I’ll be happy and proud of him as long as he tries his hardest and does the best job he can.
He was, for the moment, relieved and I could see a tiny weight lift off his shoulders. I just hope it was enough so that a little light can squeeze back in.