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Even the most sensitive teachers cannot keep some students from feeling like failures today. Students see stronger students taking fun electives, like pottery and robotics, while their own extra, remedial math and English classes emphasize how far behind they have fallen. We tell students over and over again what we want – good test scores – and they are fully capable of recognizing their failure to earn these scores. Plus we give them their test results, week after week, year after year.

In my final year of teaching, I was obliged to lose class periods to go over MAP™ results with each individual, middle school student so that students could figure out what might have gone wrong and make plans to improve. I knew what had gone wrong. My students were bilingual students and they were unable to read many test questions. Some of my students were also clear that lack of English-language learning was holding their scores down.

But the scary part of the MAP™ review process came from other students who discounted that language barrier as they said, “I’m not good at school,” or “I can’t do math, Ms. Turner,” or, worst of all, “I’m just dumb, Ms. Turner.”

Eduhonesty: Hello out there? This post should be passed on to many educational reformers. What happens to those kids who fail, fail, fail? Especially when we push them into repeated introspection after the fact? At least some of them decide that whatever it takes to succeed, they obviously lack this mysterious thing. Those kids who conclude they are too dumb to succeed may be impossible to pull back into the game, too.

Hope is not an inexhaustible resource. For some kids, hope only flickers off and on, if hope puts in any appearance at all. When the assaults keep coming month after month, hope can be extinguished. I have watched eyes becoming duller as efforts became more erratic. All the support and pep talks in the world cannot rescue less-resilient kids hugging the bottom in the testing game.

To emphasize a point I have made in previous posts: These are not “tests kids are failing” as much as “students we are failing” — and some of these failure rates have reached levels that can only be termed absurd. For example, New York State’s 2016 PARCC results could easily result in legions of kids abandoning hope.  In 2016, ELA scores for grades 3-8 rose, but those scores remain a debacle.  The “percentage of  students in grades 3-8 who scored at the proficient level (Levels 3 and 4) increased by 6.6 percentage points to 37.9, up from 31.3 in 2015.” That’s still around one in three. In math, the percentage of students who scored at the proficient level went up one whole point to 39.1 percent, up from 38.1 percent in 2015.*

When less than four out of ten students are passing a test, the problem is not with the students. But our kids are only kids. Do they understand that inappropriate tests should not affect their view of themselves?

I think the answer can be neatly captured in the words, “I’m just dumb, Mrs. Turner.”