To Test or Not to Test



Who likes doing tests?

To see how much you know. To see how much you don’t know. To stare down a bit of white paper and be confused and angered by a question that, to your eleven year old self, makes no sense and is boring. Boring equals hard.

Is confidence built by doing well in a test?

Is confidence lost by doing poorly? Where does confidence go when it is diminished and trod on? What can we do to enliven it again?

What are we testing when we test boys? Their ability to sit still, like girls. Girls are good at tests. They are good at writing neatly and making borders around their work. But some boys like to move to think. Some boys like to throw a ball while they talk. Some boys like to skate. Some boys are messy.

Failure is supposed to help us succeed later. But in the moment failure is just that. It is flattening. It deadens us to that feeling that is success. Success seems slippery. Others have it. Not us. Skipping ahead, around the corner, the girl in the colourful skirt with the pretty curls. The boy child – his body sags and his shoulders push earthward. Shoes laces dragging undone, since doing them up just wastes time that could be spent running. They will come undone once more. The nature of shoe laces. Ugh another test.

And to have to miss Hockey because of a test. No reward seems good enough. He harps on It’s so unfair. My bargaining begins – Star Trek movie and a mint choc bomb perhaps.

And what is gifted anyway? Gifted – handed to you. Unearnt. Something someone else gave you that you played no part in? Gifted through good genes. Gifted and Talented exam. GATE to the parents who, like me, might have signed their child up, hoping for a spot in an elusive school. Saying GATE somehow seems less irksome than gifted and talented. And so if you don’t get in, then you are Not gifted and Not talented. Just a regular eleven year old kid with no interest in a test on quantitative reasoning and abstract thinking. Just an ordinary kid who must go to an ordinary school with ordinary teachers. Only 2.5% of kids can be labelled Gifted and Talented, so it’s a stretch to get in.

The acronym GATE is apt. Maybe WALL would be even better. For most students the GATE is locked and high and barbed. The GATE is not open wide or welcoming. It is latched and chained and bolted. Combinations and passwords and special handshakes required. It is the beginning of difference. Is eleven too young to begin to know? Maybe this is the first real gate they have come across. You have always held the door wide for them. Perhaps you are discriminated, as I am, by steps and stairs and steep driveways. Or maybe it’s the colour of your skin and the curl of your hair that prevents your inclusion. Maybe you can’t relate to people or you relate too much. Maybe English is not your first language. You live in the wrong part of town. Maybe you are a woman.

This afternoon, after school, I must ask him to sit and look at the sample questions so the exam paper does not come as a shock tomorrow. I need to tell him to not rush the paper, in the hope he can leave the room early. Only guess if you really don’t know and have no time to try to work it out. I already know it will be a battle to get him to look at the samples. When the sun is shining and friends are meeting at the park it is less than alluring to ponder a puzzle your mother looks pained to make you do.



3 Replies to “To Test or Not to Test”

  1. hi Nic loved this piece, we endured the same experience and the GATE was well and truely closed! I look at the situation now and we are happy that ours are part of the 97.5%.
    luv jez


  2. Nicole, love your eloquently expressed post on tests (and life). Like you I think tests are a horrible way to assess and rank kids, though apparently necessary in our competitive world where places to schools etc are limited to the ‘smart’. In class I can see the stress and misery in the faces of the Year 7 and 9 kids before Naplan, the pressure mounting through high school until the final Year 12 exam…the gateway to success. You tell the kids it doesn’t matter if they fail, that they’re wonderful and smart anyway, but somehow they don’t quite believe you. (GAT is overrated, my daughter couldn’t wait to get out and into a ‘normal’ class – sometimes ordinary is preferable, liberating and stress-free!)


  3. Sigh!!! Difficult being a parent and insisting on stuff: the ‘right’ thing ….I have probably failed most tests that were ever invented and barely passed exams at Uni because I got [& get] so nervous. May he always be cool-headed.


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