Dr. Gwenn discusses an ailment peculiar to Massachusetts schoolchildren:

Yesterday I saw a young girl in my office who had very bad tummy aches. ... So, I checked her out head to toe and did a Strep test. Still, nothing. Her exam was normal - in fact, the tummy exam yielded giggles and I discovered she is quite the hopper and very adept and climbing on and off a tricky to climb exam table! And, office her Strep test was negative. Very reassuring all around.

Chatting with this young, pleasant child and her mom I learned she's in third grade in a town near mine and facing the dreaded MCAS testing today ...



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    Crippling anxiety in third graders. Thanks, MCAS!

    Gum Chewing and Slacking Week!

    I don't know if it is just my wacko kids or the way their school makes everything special and focusses on reducing tension for the kids, but my kids actually LIKE MCAS week!


    Special schedule with more recess breaks.
    No homework.
    End of MCAS party.
    Get to chew gum during the test (the principal swears by this - I think the gobstopper-sized wads make chatting impossible :-)
    More time to read or draw during the school day

    Some kids will always have test anxiety, but I think it is good that they start learning to deal with it at an early age. Kids in other countries have to deal with this, and it is better to get the tummy aches over and done with now rather than have them choke on the SAT or ASVAB later on.

    I think the MCAS has been a needed kick in the arse for many school systems helmed by people intent on keeping public education second rate (as in "if you want a real education, go pay for it at a private school" from a local school committeee member). That said, the expansion to testing 37,000 separate subject areas in grade school and trying to turn a basic skills test into a college prep exam is totally stupid and way far from the original intent. Somebody just wants to sell tests and have dubious bragging rights.

    What a fraud. Grade school

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    What a fraud. Grade school kids have absolutely no pressure on them. The pre-high school testing is strictly diagnostic - they are there to test the schools, not the kids. I took similar tests in Boston schools 40+ years ago. There is no pressure on the kids. There IS pressure on the teachers and the administrators. Which is why the anti-test propaganda comes out every year. In the education business, everybody is above average.

    Fraud? No.

    The problem is, the youngest kids can't grasp that the testing isn't personal. They are urged to do their best, but that can give them the idea that they can let their school down.

    What they know is: BIG TEST DO WELL. Having never done a big test, they get scared. Natural. Normal. Kids this age are also creatures of routine, and even the routine change can increase their anxiety. Not all schools do such a good job of teaching kids to handle the stress or making it a special as well as a trying time.

    They do use MCAS to flag kids who can't yet read or write at grade 3, and some repeat the grade as a result. We get reports with assessment grades and statistically dubious "error bars" on a single data point. It looks all official and is, IMPO as someone who deals with data and statistics, intentionally confusing.


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    Dr. Gwenn is just propagandizing here? She's just making this all up?

    Out of the blue she said "I'm scared of the MCAS - my teachers told me that the graders are tough and we have to watch how we answer the written answer."

    That she made this up doesn't seem likely to me. "Fraud" seems like an overly complicated explanation for her blog post. A much simpler answer would be that, as you say, there is pressure on teachers and administrators, and this pressure gets communicated to the children.

    Sure, no direct consequences will befall the children themselves based on their scores. But children are pretty good at picking up on the emotional states of the adults around them. If the teachers are pulling their hair out, that's sure to impress the children. They might also be receiving pressure from their parents, who will be receiving the scores and might give them a hard time.

    And did you walk uphill both ways in the snow to take the tests?

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    Yeah, yeah, I remember standardized tests 40 years ago, too.

    And now I have a kid in fourth grade. And she most definitely IS under pressure, from teachers and administrators with their own performance anxieties. No, she's not flipping out or anything, but to suggest there is no pressure is to suggest you don't have kids who actually have to take the tests (actually, she's upset she'll have to take tomorrow's MCAS test in a month instead of with the rest of her class, because she has a post-op appointment with the surgeon who did some ear surgery a couple months back).

    Also, they lead to nonsense such as what happened to her last year in third grade: Her teacher refused to let her and a classmate take out Nancy Drew books from the school library for an assignment because those are considered "fifth grade" books and so would have distracted them from their MCAS prep.


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    She would have been leaving some children behind...

    Um, no

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    Thats not why she didn't let us take out the books.
    Supposedly "they were too hard" for us.

    And the grade 2 teacher let us take them out.

    Key point

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    There is pressure on the teachers. Who exactly is TEACHing the kids, again? You think if they are put under the gun by these tests, that this won't be communicated to their students? Intentionally or not, students will see the stakes involved. It may be strictly diagnostic for the student, but the tests aren't strictly diagnostic and that's the issue here.