I still remember the day I took the SAT way back 24 years ago. I’d done practice tests for weeks on end. I’d brushed up on vocabulary. I tried to program my brain to think like normal people think so I wouldn’t flub any analogies or true/false scenarios. A week before the test I discovered that none of my friends were assigned the location I was assigned to take the test. But there was this one guy in school — a bit of a drunken jock really, who was going my way. So I made the suggestion. Wanna carpool?

The Saturday early morning that I showed up at Steve’s parents house to take him with me to take the SATs he was still drunk from the night before and barely coherent. He did a lot of moaning on the way to the testing site and I was sure that at any moment he was going to hurl. Instead of hurling, instead of studying, he got one of the highest SAT scores at our high school that year. In the parlance of our times: WTF?!

It’s at this moment that I kind of lost my faith in testing — though it had been tried once before when after an elementary lifetime of scoring gifted and being sent to those special classes where you do puzzles, brainteasers and endless research papers about dogs in first grade, a bout of illness and testing coincided to make me ungifted for one year. But it was the year that the gifted kids got to go to Russia (back in the 80s when it was still USSR) and the non-gifted kids were just going to hang around the base attempting to sniff things, smoke cloves, and spin bottles. Either you go on incredibly cool trips or you become a derelict. Testing, testing, no in between.

With my own students I only test if they make me. I prefer discussion and writing. I make them write essays, I coerce them into discussing what I’ve assigned us to read but I only test students if they make me. The ones who’ve read the material can ace it in their sleep. The ones who haven’t read will try and make up answers that are just vague and just detailed enough that they think it can help them pass. It doesn’t help them. But the test itself is pointless because I know before I give the test who read and who didn’t. The test just makes it official. I do punitive testing. If you don’t read, you’ll get a quiz that you can’t pass that will help lower your grade. I don’t like to give them. I like to grade them even less.

Now I live in a small community with three elementary schools and a minion of homeschool kids who’ve decided their classroom is the public library. Testing again is a big issue. One of the public elementary schools has a tiny population of kids — none that are special ed and 95% of which are solidly middle class. Yup! You guessed it. They have great test scores! In fact more than a few mothers have tried to recruit me away from the private school down the street that my kids attend by telling me how great the test scores are at this particular public elementary. Just yesterday a mom said, “You know, Taylorsville has the best test scores around...” But what does that translate into? Good test taking skills means you are always searching for one definitive answer. Black and white. No gray. California public schools that have great testing are doing a swell job of training the next batch of civil servants that will know how to deny compassion because your answer to your life problem is not a), b) or c) that they’ve provided. What else is this sort of training good for?

Granted, testing can be used as a benchmark to see how well the student has retained the information, but giving a student a project where he or she has to apply the knowledge works as well. Projects gives them the added responsibility and confidence that their hunches and knowledge were correct. Testing is a great way to bump self-esteem up a notch or tear 'em down a few.

But back to the schools. I feel bad for the other elementary school in our area. Because this school is the hub for special education —: the test scores, everyone says, are lower and it is a shame. Otherwise they’d be doing great like the other school. There seems to be a million things wrong with that statement. Not the least of which is blaming special education children whom I’m guessing didn’t ask for those standardized tests to measure their non standardized life in the first place.

I can only guess the damage done to children these days with the testing frenzy. My son attends the private school in town that does of course test, but isn’t hung up on it. We are a stress free zone. But even my son was freaking out over a spelling test that neither his teacher nor I gave any significance to. I can only imagine what the stress is like at schools that live and die by testing.

But the point is this: Testing measures pretty much an equation of how well you take tests + some info that you know on the subject + whether you were sick or well that day. The SAT measures how well they think your mind will stay intact while you are trying to find yourself that freshmen year of college. My reading comprehension tests let me know who read and who didn’t. My son’s spelling test let’s us know he’s not hearing silent letters?! But other than that, we need to get over testing because it just doesn’t indicate anything of much importance.

If your kid isn't doing well on a test, have a talk about the material with your child. But if the principal and the teacher are freaking out you might want to take it with a grain of salt. Get to the bottom of things. Was your kid having a bad day? Hates testing? We need to all relax a little on the testing and get back to the learning. I often wonder where our high school's star SAT taker is these days. So far, no one I know has heard a peep about him that relates his success or failure in life to his testing greatness.

Give me your testing horror stories or greatness. How has testing influenced your life?