Students Need to Do More Than Opt Out. They Need to Strike.

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Thank you Peter DeWitt for this post.

Ghandi said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Some version of that was in my head and on my heart when I left the school building around 10:00pm on August 12th. The only students still taking their regents exams were refugees – our summer school principal told us the next day that the last kid left at midnight. He had been coloring in scantrons for 16 hours. It could have been worse…some students were scheduled for 24 hours worth of someone else’s idea of an authentic assessment.

I think it matters to note that these kids aren’t delinquents or truants who fail tests due to lack of effort or shenanigans. These are kids who have come from war, who lived in refugee camps, who have seen and experienced things as children and teenagers that I’m still processing at 34 years old as an Iraq War Veteran. They don’t have resources like parents who speak English or a great understanding of our system. If you tell them that they need to sit for three tests at six hours each in a single day in order to “be successful” then they’re going to do it, because they’re running from the emotional trauma of war and exile towards an American dream that includes a High School diploma. They’ll trust us and do whatever it is we tell them to do. And what we’re telling them is they need to bubble shit in for the better part of a day straight. It’s unconscionable and I’m nauseous to think I’m a part of it. I’ll repeat: they were in school taking tests until midnight. Some version of this has been going on for years.

I’m not blaming our district. The kids need the double time, six hours per test, or they won’t finish. Regents exams are only offered at specific times on specific days. Students need five tests to graduate. If the district decides that students can only test for six hours on any given day (one test), then 20 year old seniors who need three tests to fulfill graduation requirements won’t ever graduate. You can’t fix this by rearranging dates or times because the problem isn’t a test. Taking the position that you are “anti-test” means that you are anti-a-piece-of-paper. The problem isn’t paper; any of us could write a test today that will never be used to abuse a child-survivor of war. The problem is (as I see it) compulsion.

Is passing five regents exams the only way we can assess readiness for adulthood? If it’s not the only way, is it the best way? Has the New York State Board of Regents developed the perfect magical formula that, should you survive their little trivia game gauntlet, guarantees proficiency at adulthood? There are no clear public school options a student can choose in order to move on with their life with some kind of credential except for taking and passing other peoples’ tests. Students applying to law school take the LSAT because they want to be lawyers. If they wanted to be doctors, they wouldn’t have taken the LSAT, they would have taken the MCAT. Either way, they would have made the choice themselves. We shouldn’t be anti-test, we should be pro-freedom; the tests and what they do to, as Ghandi put it, our weakest members, are the symptoms of an obsession with homogenization and control. We need alternative pathways to a High School degree within the public school system that are not decrees from central planners. There have to be ways besides some arbitrary, rigid set of credits and tests.

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