Monday, August 31, 2009


2 a : a usually general or lasting direction of thought, inclination, or interest

I have a crazy side. An irrational me that emerges unexpectedly, as a result of unforeseen prompts. Last week, the prompt was A's first batch of standardized test scores. Before I get started on my craziness, let me explain that these scores are quite important. In our school system, they determine whether a child is eligible to apply for a magnet middle school, which often determines whether the child is eligible for a magnet high school. And these Very Important Scores are the results of the first standardized tests given in our system. So there's no gimmee. No safety test to make sure your child understands how the process works. No second chance if she has a cold the day of test-taking.

That said, there was little reason to worry. A is a bright child. She reads well above her grade level, has never received a B on her report card and did fine on all of the pre-tests they did to prepare for the standardized test.

So it was illogical for my pulse to race a bit as I tore open the envelope that A so casually handed me at 7:30 on a Friday morning, right before we had to walk out the door for school. I scanned the paper quickly, looking for a percentile to get a quick gauge of how she did. Seeing numbers below 90, my eyes widened a bit and I heard A say, "What's wrong? Did I do all right?" Luckily, that simple question (momentarily) brought me back to my senses. I put the papers away and resolved to look at them once the girls were safely ensconced in their classrooms and I had a cup of coffee at hand.

Unfortunately, caffeine did not make these test scores easier to understand. Percentiles were, in fact, nowhere to be found on the results. The numbers that had alarmed me were unique to this test, with little relevance in assessing how well my daughter had done overall. There was one column that was labeled "advanced, proficient or below proficient." A was advanced in every category for all four subjects tested, but this did not give me enough information. I wanted to know how far above average she was. Did she barely squeak by in a subject? She should have scored well above proficient on any reading assessment, so if she didn't, I needed to know. Math, however, wasn't her strong suit. But was that only in comparison to her reading? I couldn't tell based on these scores.

Now, the reason I say I can be crazy is that my mind was swirling as I tried to process all of this information. Both my husband and I were great test takers, back in the day. I can remember thinking in elementary school that standardized tests were stupid. Why give us all a test if you always scored 99%? It was only years later that I glimpsed someone else's results and realized that not everyone got the same 99s every time. I didn't have the healthiest attitude about all of this as a child or high school student.

In fact, my orientation to grades was decidedly unhealthy. I thought the only thing I was good at was taking tests. I thought the only value I had or ever would have was found in the classroom.

So this long-held psychosis that grades are the measure of one's worth came raging back as I tried to interpret A's scores. I called a friend. One who would not judge me. One who had, perhaps, been a bit crazy in her own past. Like me, her craziness had stemmed from a desire to please an implacable father, who rarely (if ever) offered praise. Unlike me, she had some distance from the current crazy state of my mind and offered me sound advice. She understood how quickly my mind went back to that original orientation of good grades = self worth. She also knew that equation wasn't true and she reminded me of that.

I gradually calmed down and figured out a way to actually interpret the scores and A did fine on the test. She did, as expected, knock the reading portions out of the park. And she wasn't borderline on any of the assessment categories, so she should be well prepared for middle school. All of this is well and good and incredibly irrelevant to your life.

But what I want to share that perhaps does matter to you is how a lasting inclination that we know in our hearts to be wrong lies latent there instead of being eradicated. Are there paths that your thoughts unwittingly take that astonish you with how right they feel, even when you know logically they are wrong?

I really thought I was over my perfectionist strive for not just perfect, but better than perfect grades. I have worked very hard to not pressure my daughters to get good grades. In fact, when A was preparing for her standardized test, I did not quiz her. I only encouraged her and reassured her that she would do just fine. But I still turned into the old me when the scores were in my hand.

This makes me sad. It makes me angry with myself that I can still think something so wrong. It makes me wonder what I really think of myself, deep down. Because I have long since ceased to excel in anything. While I tell myself I am at peace with that, do I believe it? Or am I just waiting for the right time to berate myself for a mistake?

I want to change my orientation. But the definition of the word itself points to a long term process. In order to truly have a healthy orientation regarding grades, tests and their relevance to self-worth, I will have to remind myself again and again of what is true. My head will have to tell my heart over and over that my daughters are wonderful people who are meant to use the gifts they have, not be what someone else thinks they should be. Even harder, I will have to show myself grace and mercy when I fail miserably, as I surely will.


anointedwithgrace said...

You and I really have so much in common! I realize it more and more as I read your posts. It's great that you know where your "orientation" originates and that you recognize so quickly when something triggers your old tendencies. You are very self-aware, and I think you do a great job with your girls!

WordGirl said...

Thanks for the encouragement that it's good that I know my orientation. Still, I would prefer to just be able to erase it from my memory banks and start all over! If only life were that easy...

This post feels a bit like standing naked in front of the world, so I'm especially thankful for your reassurance that self-awareness is a good thing and that I am doing a good job with my daughters. I fail them, but I love them wholeheartedly and am hopeful that will make up for my mistakes.

Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim said...

I think you know how I feel about you and your family, and, of course, none of my feelings are linked to intelligence :D. Rather my feelings stem from what we have in common, and what we dont. They are connected to the way you and Jason were there for me a few years ago when I needed you. Its because you continue to be my strong friend who reminds me to read more, to write more, and that I can be who I want to be, because I admire that in you.

I realize everyone who reads your blog could tell you all your wonderful points, and it still wont help you change your own "orientation", but I think it is important for you to hear how others think of you.

PS- and you KNOW how I feel about standardized tests as the one time measure of a larger future... ;)

Variations On A Theme said...

Thanks for your honesty! Wouldn't it be great if we all did that? I hate when i get obsessed about how well Olivia is doing!

I wasn't a great tester. When I took those tests in grade school AND in high school, most of the answers were so ridiculously obvious, I assumed they were trick questions, so I'd construct complicated mind maneuvers to make a less obvious answer work.

Chris and Tiana said...

This is funny. I've never thought about how I'll react when Clara Beth starts taking tests. I was a perfectionist in school too who got upset when I got anything below a 99 on those tests. But seriously, how do those scores affect my life one little bit now? I hope I can keep that perspective when CB starts that phase of life. I may have to re-read this post in a few years...