The Stress Test for Test Stress

The debate continues. Is standardized testing a good idea? Does a standardized test prove your child’s ability to succeed in the future or just stress them out in the present? Does the ability to circle the picture that goes with the word prove that parents, teachers, and students have achieved success or does it prove the amount and type of television a child has been exposed to?

I taught second grade in a public school that educated children from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. I have a vivid memory of giving standardized tests to a room full of children and realizing that the scores would be used to evaluate all of us. If my classroom didn’t score well, it could mean I wasn’t a capable teacher. If a child didn’t score well, would they assume they weren’t smart? If the parents didn’t agree with their child’s score, would they be upset with their child, with me, or with themselves?

The day of testing dawns and a child comes to the breakfast table. He is supposed to consume the eggs, toast, fruit, and a small vegetable smoothie. He wants a Pop Tart and a bowl of Cheerios, but it is standardized testing day. The letter from the principal stressed the need for a good breakfast. Eating eggs might mean several points higher on the score, so Mom or Dad has loaded the table!

Teachers wear comfortable shoes, pace the floor, and make sure that none of the kids are talking or looking at the test sheets of others. In the younger grades, the teacher must speak clearly, carefully reading the exact words for the test instructions. If a student isn’t listening or doesn’t understand, the teacher is not supposed to explain. (But this teacher usually broke that rule.)

The children sit nervously in their seats, staring at the assortment of brand new #2 pencils they were required to bring and wondering if they will be able to pass this major exam. Parents have told them how important it is for them to do their best. Teachers have stressed the need to work fast, but not too fast. The principal has announced that no foolish behavior will be put up with during standardized testing. (So is foolish behavior all right for the rest of the year?)

Standardized testing is an annual root canal for everyone involved. The one exception would be for the exceptional students who love to accept the praise that comes from exceptional scores. The other exception is the teacher of the exceptional students who is measured as exceptional, except that often the scores reflect the children or their parents’ exceptional expectations and exertions. Most parents will need to accept the fact that their child is not exceptional and is, in fact, somewhat average. The average kids will be the ones who are ready to take the test, ready to do their best, but aware that they will probably not know everything. They will raise their hand and want to know if recess and lunch will still be at the regular time that day. (Their Pop Tart and Cheerios will only last so long.) At least one average child will ask about going to the bathroom. A good teacher will send that child down the hall right away!

How does a parent take the stress out of the test?  Here are a few suggestions from this teacher/mom/grandmother/Bible teacher:

  • Remember that only a few jobs require a high IQ, and your child will be happy and successful at a job that is suited to their interests and abilities. A good employee is usually the person who is hard working, personable, and honest. A job can be learned but a person’s character is the true measure for success and reward. The Bible puts it this way: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23–24).
  • Your child’s test scores measure your child’s ability to take a test at a certain time in his or her life. That is not a measure of his or her ability to endure the test of time. A test measures what a child knows, not what a child will learn. The smart adult was a child who never stopped learning, growing, and working to be better. “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge” (Proverbs 18:15).
  • The most important achievement of your son or daughter will be the salvation of their soul. Do your children realize that their salvation means more to you than any grade or test score? Do they define success as obedience to God’s Holy Spirit? Chance are they will—if Mom and Dad make Spirit-led obedience their clear priority. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

If it is test time, reduce the stress by reminding your kids of what matters most. Your children need to succeed in school because they need to become usable by God. If God wants them to be a doctor, they need to work hard and be prepared for that calling. If God wants them to be a pastor, children’s minister or teacher, they need to be ready to say “yes” to God’s direction. They need to work hard in school so they can be ready to serve the Lord, doing whatever he asks of them. From the first standardized test to the entrance exams for a PhD, the real definition of success and aptitude is found in God’s word:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5–6)