A lot of people don’t understand what really happens when a student fails the state test at a young age. The fact these these tests alone determine the worth of our students, I thought it appropriate to walk through the academic lifecycle of a student who is labeled “non-proficient”. 

Meet George, a normal kid who has a difficult time passing reading tests.

  • George is in 2nd grade. He isn’t high-flying or gifted, but he is a solid C student and he enjoys school. He likes 2nd grade and according to his teacher, he is moving along at a normal academic pace.
  • Fast forward one year and George is in 3rd grade. He knows a reading test is coming that will determine if he moves on to 4th grade. He is very aware he may fail this test and be “held back”. All of his classmates know it too and they speculate who will go on and who will fail the test. George is stressed out about it and has a hard time sleeping at night.
  • George begins to hate school and acts out. His bad behavior is a manifestation of his fear and inadequacy.
  • George is put in remedial reading and instead of going to what they call “specials” (outside activities like PE and Art), he sits with a reading coach hammering out fluency drills and vocabulary exercises. He is engaged in test prep most of his time in school. He is not allowed to chose books he likes, he is required to read what the district mandates him to read based on his fluency scores. He understandably begins to hate reading.
  • George continues to struggle with the state test and he is continuously put in remedial classes. He reads from a book he knows is lower than the regular book and he begins to say things like, I’m a bad reader, I’m not smart and I hate school. These statements become self-fulfilling prophecies.
  • George’s behavior gets worse – he becomes the class clown because he would rather be “bad” than “stupid”.
  • Because of his disruptive behavior, George is continuously isolated through the end of elementary and into middle school. He spends most of his time in the ISS room.
  • Fast forward and George is now in high school and he knows the 10th grade test is the one that determines whether or not he graduates. He is acutely aware of his limitations regarding tests and knows he will most likely fail.
  • But George has a job he loves as a restaurant cook. He is thriving in his position and the GM is even thinking about making him a manager. All George needs is a standard diploma for a management position in the company.
  • George also reads many publications he enjoys about cars and music. In fact, he reads all the time.
  • George now in 11th grade asks the school’s administration for permission to get out of intensive reading classes so he can enjoy some electives and other things he is interested in. Administration refuses his requests. He must, according to the state, stay in intensive reading classes until he passes the test.
  • George never leaves intensive reading classes.
  • George retakes the reading test now three times a year and still cannot pass.
  • George’s disruptive behavior has subsided but he has started skipping his intensive reading classes. The assistant principal finds him in the stairwell reading Rolling Stone.
  • George continues to be isolated in the ISS room for skipping class.
  • Meanwhile, George, over the last 4 years of high school, has passed all of his classes. Still a solid C student, he has done all of the work and has earned enough credits to graduate high school. He is hoping for his diploma so he can become a manager at his restaurant job.
  • However, George doesn’t pass the state test for the final time. He misses it by 3 points and when it comes time to walk the stage in two weeks he will receive a certificate of completion NOT a standard diploma.
  • The night of graduation, George decides not to go. He isn’t interested in walking the stage at graduation only to receive a piece of paper that reinforces his inability to pass the test.

This is not an exaggeration. This is an actual story of a student I know well. And his story parallels many other students’ stories in our current public school system. In fact I received a list of 10 students in one high school who were 3 points or less away from passing but still had enough credits to graduate. None of them received a “standard” diploma on graduation night.

But what do we do about it? Absolutely Nothing. All the while, the legislators pushing these laws on public schools get financial kickbacks from the companies making the test and making the intensive reading curriculum.

These legislators pushing high-stakes testing send their kids to private schools.

Oppression comes in all shapes and sizes. In American public schools it comes in the form of high-stakes tests.

8 Responses

  1. Dawn Casey-Rowe

    This one was tough to read. I got into teaching to teach George. When I was little, I wanted to be Gabe Kotter–forming relationships leads to success, test scores don’t. We don’t have tests that hold kids back at that young age in my state, but they can keep them from graduating these days. Nothing makes me sadder than a kid who thinks he’s stupid because his genius wasn’t recognized. But don’t worry, I think the tipping point’s around the corner. The world of learning is at these kids’ fingertips, and the way we learn is changing. I believe a learning revolution’s on the horizon. Can’t come soon enough, and I’m curious to see if it gets there in time for George…maybe he’ll be part of leading the charge:)

    • Kathleen Jasper

      Thanks for your insights, Dawn. And like you, I believe the tipping point is around the corner too. We just have to keep spreading the message. Glad you’re here.

  2. Bagua

    I have a daughter who is just like George. She will be in high school next year and we fear that one day she will be given a gown and a cap to wear at a graduation in which she will not receive a diploma. Sadly, it’s not because of her grades that we can almost predict this happening, but because of FCAT reading. In four years, she has only passed this test once, by one point.
    We are looking into a change to private school. As we figure out how to afford private tuition, she breaks our hearts crying and begging us not to pull her out of her beloved school. Tough decision, but the other choice is to leave our daughter in the hands of an unfair school system that will disregard her hard work and learning over the results of a store-bought, one-size-fits-all, bogus test. Had we known 14 years ago, we would’ve saved for high school before starting to save for college.

  3. Michelle

    Wow. This was a really hard read Kathleen. Tears are flowing as I’m typing this.

    This is my kiddo, Jonah. The sad thing is, I have harped on him and pushed him just as much as any teacher. I was made to feel my son wasn’t smart enough and living up to his potential. Why can’t it simply be that he struggles with Reading? It may take him a little longer to read the social studies chapter, a little longer to catch on? He is off the charts in Science and Math but Reading….oh Reading. I can’t tell you the number of hours he spends in RTI and after school Rockin Reader programs. The number of hours he has spent with a tutor during the summer. I know Reading is important and imperative but he shouldn’t feel like less of a student because he’s testing at a 5th grade level instead of 6th. I am so disappointed in myself as a parent that it took me this long to start standing up for him and letting him know that he is a brilliant young man and there is nothing wrong with the way he reads.

    “Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
    -Albert Einstein

    Thanks for all your work Kathleen and Conversation ED Team. I am doing what I can here in KY…

    • Michelle

      I hate hearing these words come out of his mouth – unfortunately I hear them far too often.
      ‘I’m a bad reader, I’m not smart’

      Jonah bases his entire worth on Reading. It doesn’t matter if he has a 100% in Science (he did last year) and a 94% in Math.

    • Celina

      I have spent my entire career helping students like George. With the implementation of Common Core and student assessment that holds teachers accountable for student growth and included in their professional evaluation, there will be many more kids like George. One exception, many students will not make it to 12th grade. Many more students will resemble George, but not because they struggle with reading. Many student will struggle because of fragmented implementation of the CCSS. Why? One reason is that students in K-2 will be taught comprehension strategies and skills in lieu of systematic teaching of the foundational skills. Why? Because teachers have to show student growth on the end of the year district test!

  4. Vicki

    This is exactly why my daughter is now in private school. No standardized testing. Her self esteem is up, stress is down, and OCD behaviors have disappeared.


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