Two thirds of my job is being my school’s testing coordinator. Because I work in a special education school, this position means that for two months of the year (after seven months of mind-numbing planning, mind you), I sit in the basement of our school and watch students as they are tested. This sounds like I’m slacking for two months but there’s really a great deal involved: monitoring each student as he or she is tested, keeping track of how many tests each student has completed (they have between six and nine “testlets” in each of three subjects), checking the massive Excel spreadsheet each day provided by the main testing gurus in Kansas, collecting materials for the tests (such as pencils, markers, shoes, the lunch lady, plants, an old-fashioned scale, multiple recycling bins, etc.), and calling Toto in Kansas when I have questions, just to give you a taste of what’s happening. Here’s the problem, though. My students are tested at their grade level, even if their actual grade and the grade at which they are functioning are as far apart as the two sides of the Grand Canyon. Students who cannot read, or phathom what numbers mean (I’m with them on that), or understand the three choices given to them are tested on things they simply cannot comprehend. And when it comes to the writing section, it’s simple: THESE STUDENTS CANNOT WRITE! But testing is federal law (no child left behind, you know) and we must comply. The teachers read the items, scribe for them, and make the ordeal as painless as possible, but make no mistake: this is still an ordeal for my students as well as for the teachers.
After pondering this insanity, I finally came up with an analogy. It’s kind of like if I went to Russia and someone spoke to me for five minutes in very broken English. I would understand part of what was being said but because I don’t speak the language and had to spend so much time processing and translating the words from Russian to English, I would not grasp the majority of what was being said. Then the person would tell me to write something in Russian using the Cyrillic alphabet. There is no way I could complete this task. I would either freeze, become upset, or draw pictures. This is exactly what my students do.
The reason I bring this up is because I think my body is testing me. The two monkeys on my back—weight and chronic pain—are ever-present and ever messing with different parts of me. They are constantly testing me. They test my determination, my conscientiousness, my strength. I think I’m doing well with the weight, so I guess this would be the language arts section of the test for me. It’s challenging, but if I really focus I can get through it and do well. And I am doing well, it’s just that I wish I didn’t have to. I wish I didn’t have to constantly count every single food that I consume, evaluate each food as to its necessity, and pass up on things I want to gobble up. But I can do it and, with my current language arts assessment, I’m being successful. Thirty pounds down since January, and I feel really good about that. My joints and my clothes and my reflection in the mirror all thank me. Language arts is a test at which I am excelling.
But now it’s time for the math section—my pain—and I’m just not up to this. Numbers—is that what they are?—swirl in front of me as I struggle with each question. I’m not up to this. I don’t have the skills to handle the pain and, currently, the backlash I am receiving from a change in meds. My mind is just mush. I ask for help but it is against the rules for the people in charge to assist. I have to figure out the answers for myself. I’M NOT UP TO THIS. I say that again and again and again. Over and over I beg for the testing to end, but it just goes on and on, each question more difficult than the last. When is my testing done? When do I check off the last box and have no more challenging questions before me?
Like my students, I am frustrated. I don’t understand why I have to endure this testing but I do. For me I guess it’s no pain left behind. And so I do the best I can. I slog through each section and try to answer the questions—how do I respond to this headache, this neck pain, this brain zap?—as well as I can. For right now, though, I try to remain calm as the questions loom in front of me each day. There’s doesn’t seem to be much I can do. Maybe I just need to learn how to write in Cyrillic.