Ten years ago when I had returned from Peace Corps, I was a long term sub in LAUSD. I was the 13th sub for five groups of 8th Graders in Language Arts. My job was to get as many of them as possible to pass the writing proficiency test to go on to high school. Had circumstances been different (I was sub two or three, there were more than four and one half months left in the school year, the students had literacy skills…..and so on), I am sure I may have been able to make an even larger dent in getting kids over the ‘line’ with passing scores.
Circumstances being what they were, even my post Peace Corps ‘I can change the world’ attitude was insufficient to the task at hand. There was also the large problem of convincing students that THIS test, the one I wanted them to succeed at most, was significant and meant a difference in their lives.
On a great day the task was daunting – I had every student that every other Grade 8 teacher managed to ‘dump’ during the school year on the revolving door of various subs. On bad days the task was not so much daunting as incomprehensible and unbelievable. On the week before spring testing and the writing exam, one event nearly sent me over the edge in terms of incredulousnes: students being offered orange juice on STAR test days, but not for the writing proficiency exam (unless I bought it).
If everything my students did was important (and it was to me as being able to read and write is essential to functioning in first world countries), should they not be offered orange juice for any test and quiz? What made the STAR test so ‘different’? In order for students to take studying seriously/sincerely, they should know all quizzes and tests have value, not just the ones in the spring. If anyone who thought about the orange juice actually had a degree in chemistry or biology or perhaps nutrition, they would have realized that merely offering orange juice on test days was a misaligned ploy. A healthy brain, in order to learn, needs great nutrition daily – not for four or five days out of the year and definitely weeks before the tests in order to achieve the best effect. I have never seen pro athletes eat well only on game days.
I was outraged. I could not be calmed. I could not be placated. I could not decide who I hated most – Sunkist (the orange juice provider), LAUSD for being tactless in pimping the juice only on STAR test days, the public for buying into the stupidity of four ounces of orange juice a day making a noticeable difference in test scores so it was appropriate to offer this to students, the program/service that convinced LAUSD this was an effective marketing strategy for the STAR test……the list of ‘what were you thinking’ went up and down the line from the governor of CA to the U.S. President to my school principal to the school board. My students even realized it was futile and said to me, ‘Ghetto kids be gettin’ orange juice for one week out of the year and we are expected to show appreciation by doing well on tests-who thinks we be that stupid?’.
Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately for my mental health) I never followed up on the test scores released the following fall as I had been accepted to graduate school and moved to NYC at the end of June that year. Many of my students passed the writing proficiency exam (and not due to me – most likely in spite of me and my ranting about the orange juice issue) and went through Grade 8 promotion. My students thought my level of outrage about the orange juice was both funny and stupid, as in, ‘Who is gonna listen to you? You a stupid white woman in ghetto LA worried about kids….no one in LAUSD be caring about that #*it!’ . My students, who I was not allowed to give hand made book marks (with individual messages of success and best wishes to each student which I hand wrote) to (as they could not be holding anything in their hands at promotion and bolted after so I was not able to hand them out) had all wished me well when they found out I was accepted to grad school. They said they had never met a crazy white woman like me who flat out said what I believed about these test ‘hoops’. They signed my year book – they bought me a half gallon of orange juice on the last day of school before promotion.
It is now nine years later. By right, these students should be in their last or next to last year at college. In all likelyhood these students did not make it that far – not nearly that far if they were only given the good stuff in the spring.
Subsequently, I have sat through various school staff meetings – public, private and charter (public) telling teachers all the wonderful things that will be done in the spring leading up to STAR testing. Test prep rallies to get the kids psyched, the PTA or whatever parent organization donating food for good breakfasts on those test days (school districts no longer even have the funds for ‘extra’ orange juice), and how we, the teachers – the mere mortals in the chain of command need to remind the students to eat well during testing week – bring snacks, etc.
I still wonder, “Are people that stupid?”. How on earth can any of us believe that a test prep rally and good eating the week of testing can compensate for everything that did not happen the rest of the school year, or, are we so desperate to believe in anything, we will grasp at even these straws?
n.b. During the first week of each school year, I explain to my students what good food is and how to get protein – be it peanut butter or other nut butters, tofu, rice and beans, actual meat, etc. and why they have to eat protein at each meal throughout the day to keep their blood sugar balanced so they can concentrate in all of their classes. My students get the low down on sleep – solid sleep and why it is more important to sleep regularly than to try to catch up on it. I get my students to understand that quizzes and tests are not about merely passing or failing, but opportunities to find out where they need to study more, learn more, improve and do better next time and to find out how I can help them. I tell my students that I don’t care what the spring test scores say, I love them anyways. Test scores are numbers and appreciating/loving/valuing a child is qualitative – my heart knows no bounds on those matters. I repeat the bare bones of this message before all big tests, at back to school and open house and when I talk to parents informally. When necessary, I pull out the college books on biochemistry and nutrition and the more recent research on brain development to share with others who will listen. My message is 365 days a year of healthy eating, exercise and rest. If we really want to RALLY the troops, we need to do it regularly – not merely for spring testing.