Liam’s 4th grade has finished two rounds of standardized tests–three days for reading/writing, three days for math–and they’ve got two days of science tests still to do.  Given all the practice tests and at-home tests and in-class work on RELAXING and NOT WORRYING, the test have been pretty much the focus of the school year for the past four months or so. 

We’re lucky that Liam “tests well,” as they say; he doesn’t get anxious or worried, unlike the girl in his class who told her mother that if she didn’t do well on these tests, she wouldn’t get into a good middle school, and then she wouldn’t get into a good high school, and then she wouldn’t get into a good college, and then she’d end up homeless.  

Her mother suggested that perhaps a “not good” score on a 4th grade math test didn’t necessarily imply an adult address of a cardboard box in Union Square Park.

What do these tests measure, in fact? Do they really reflect the quality of the teaching in the classroom? Do they illuminate some quality about our kids that we wouldn’t otherwise know? And, conversely, what aspects of our children are not illuminated by these tests?  Just as I bang my head in frustration over the idiocy of a government and a public that thinks “oh sure, Big Oil is totally going to protect the environment, by all means let them drill wherever they want,”  I can’t believe that anyone thinks these tests are accurate tools of measurement for any but the most dire of circumstances.

I mean, how do you test a kid whose idea of fun is to build something that looks like this:


This, for those of you not in the know, is a bionicle, which is a lego product that uses ball-and-socket joints and moveable gears, instead of stacking bricks and hinges.  Liam has approximately eighty-five thousand bionicle pieces, and builds these monsters free-hand, according to some darkly complex plan that hatches in the deep recesses of his brain.

When I look at these things, I wonder what on earth my son will be “when he grows up.”  I think it’s entirely likely that he’s going to end up creating some sort of robot army and eventually taking over the world. Or becoming a master safe-cracker.  And I don’t think there’s a test for that particular skill set.