Monday, May 08, 2000

Rites of spring

We've just survived one of the rites of passage of elementary school: the Standardized Test. I can remember taking them in my distant youth--bubbles to fill in, multiple choices, story problems, a break from the routine. I don't remember them being as big a deal then as they seem to be now, but in truth I don't recall all that much from, um, thirty-some years ago. Maybe we really did drop everything for a month and do nothing but study for the test. Maybe it did last for a week. Maybe my teacher did mandate early bedtimes on test days, and maybe the school's budget and reputation were determined by how I did.

That's the way things are now, anyway. My daughter's class was told to "study like crazy," and so we brought the pages and pages and pages of worksheets with us on vacation and took a little time between the pool and the parks and the play to get ready for the Big Test. Bad luck for the school, the teacher, the district, all those entities who stand to lose, that the test dates were immediately after spring break. A week of no discipline, of trips and disrupted routines and jet lag. All that classroom prep slipping away.

But we survived. My daughter thought the test was kind of hard, but mostly easy. My son is in first grade, and so doesn't take the test, but the other kids in his self-contained special-ed class are second graders, and test-worthy. So he spent much of the week in a different classroom, with a group of hearing-impaired kids, and now he wants to learn to talk with his hands. So at least something educational transpired in those five days.

Now that that rite is out of the way comes another rite, this one for parents: the dreaded IEP meeting. There'll be no official results from the Big Test, but I'll find out how my kids have done on the countless little tests they've been subjectively subjected to over the year. Have they met their goals? Have they developed appropriately? Is their behavior worthy? Does the picture the professionals will paint of their abilities at all resemble the children I know and love? It's not a test--it shouldn't be a test--but I always feel as though I'm walking into an interrogation room, where my skill at getting my kids what they need will be sorely tested by tricky rhetoric, psychological manipulation, and gang warfare. There are no bubbles to color in, but plenty of i's to dot and t's to cross and ducks to line up in a row.

Fortunately, I've been studying like crazy.

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