When I was in eleventh grade, I blew the verbal SAT out of the water. 800, baby. Racked up 1420 total, which means I was no slouch at basic maths, either. I did even better on the PSAT… which I took a few weeks later.
For many years I had been taking, and scoring well on, standardised tests. This was an area in which being a 1.5-gen immigrant did not screw me royally; I was a student by nature and was thus able to adapt to the relevant aspects of America fairly easily. I learn about culture — I don’t internalise it unless it fits me. With me so far? So the problems that kids from other cultures have were largely absent in me; I just… expanded my notion of “material for the test” to include culture.
I may have been able to make the adaptation because my particular blend is German-American-US Army brat. Some norms will sink in when you watch Sesame Street, even if you’re watching it on the Armed Forces Network from your apartment in Nürnberg. In a lot of ways, I am the quintessential third-culture kid, except my third culture — the blending of two different cultures — is actually a fourth, and there are pieces of fifth and sixth cultures/subcultures swimming in my brain.
Born Confused is more than a book title to me. It’s the best description of what I am.
So just about the only thing I could do was test well, when I think back. I was awkward around other kids (adults were no problem). I tested well, I tested fast, and I had a lot of free time during exam week as a result. Man, anything could’ve happened to me while I was waiting for the buses to run home. 🙂
I got the basics down fast and that meant I had a lot of time to kill. Instead of graduating early and moving on to a two-year school, we were encouraged to take Advanced Placement courses… which, of course, resulted in taking more tests. I confess I was not great with the AP Government test. What test-driven education does not do is account for the humanity of its students. The depression that hit me hard starting in tenth grade deepened until, realistically, it hit its nadir in 2005. That would be a whole four years later. Wrong antidepressant by just a hair, wrong circumstances, no IEP despite the obvious disabling effects of my brain chemistry. I tested well, therefore all was right with the world.
What testing well does not indicate is the student’s performance where the points don’t matter — no, not “Whose Line”, reality. I did well on the majority of my exams because I knew the information and was adept at writing essays off-the-cuff based on whatever I remembered, something they do try to drill into us from a young age. I don’t actually remember the last time I had to write an essay without being allowed to refer to material. Nope, not even in Professor Leuzzi’s class; we worked from what we were given, but we were given what we needed for the argument. This is where the “data-based question” essay triumphs over the flat-out “answer X question in long form” essay on the Regents exams.
Reality is different.
Reality is what happens outside a gymnasium, where you don’t have a #2 pencil, a blue exercise book, or a bottle of water. Reality, for me, was figuring out how to get an education while fighting constant crying jags and panic attacks, and later, a fatigue that only relented if I babied my body. (That is still difficult enough to manage from a place of remission.)
Being an exceptional test-taker, the Child that wasn’t Left Behind, did sweet f.a. to help me after I left high school. I needed to find reasons to take and pass classes, more than “you’ll want these numbers going forward”. I am singularly unmotivated when it comes to work that isn’t going to move me toward a goal. I chafe at the notion of having to leave college “well-rounded”; I have a life and it is rounding me out plenty. I don’t believe we can force anyone to care about subject matter if they find it irrelevant to their lives and futures, so at the very least we’ve got to start looking at what’s relevant to students when we think about the gen ed boxes they check.
Reality differs now from what it was when these standards were devised. We are overdue for an overhaul. It is no longer enough to be the model test-taker, if it ever was, and it certainly doesn’t ensure that a student will succeed outside of high school. Education must shape itself to the needs of the student.
Weigh in: are you a student? Are your needs met? Were they ever? What was your experience?