Students Bored to Tears

By Jeffrey Page

Not all cases of child abuse involve physical violence inflicted by an angry adult on a kid who somehow violated the rules of the house. Sometimes, in fact, the abuse is more subtle and physically painless, and is meted out by the people and in the place where you least expect it. That would be administrators making life temporarily miserable for pupils in school.

If you’ve got a child in school and if you happen to be one of the growing numbers of moms and dads who are opting their kids out of the New York State grade 3-8 English language arts exams and state math testing, you have to read this story. And possibly, you might have to take action.

Here in Test-Happy New York, parents have the authority to exempt their children from the endless rounds of testing – testing that, in the minds of some officials, apparently passes for education. Thus, a question: How does a school district care for the needs of students who are not taking the tests during the periods when testing is being administered?

In its May-June issue, NYSUT United, the bimonthly publication of New York State United Teachers union, reports that the policy in 72 districts holds that kids not taking the test remain in the same room with those who are. The policy is called “sit and stare” because that’s all that the opted-out kids are allowed to do.

Read a book? No. Write an essay or compose a poem? No. Invent a game with a pencil and a piece of paper? No. Walk over to the window and follow the antics of a squirrel? No.  This is the kind of torture that some school administrators are inflicting on children.

In fact, the kids not being tested are not allowed to do anything other than the words dictate: sit and stare – and possibly be bored out of their minds. Which seems like a doubly moronic policy since it would appear to annoy and distract test takers knowing that the lucky kids – the decliners – are seated just a couple of rows away.

What the “sit and stare” policy means for a third-grade test decliner seated in a room where testing is being conducted is that she must gaze at the wall for the 70 minutes a day (for three days) allowed for the English Language Arts test. You really have to wonder when was the last time any official of the State Education Department sat still and quiet for that long.   

NYSUT also reported that the policy in 93 other districts allows the students not taking the test to read quietly, a slight improvement. But still, those being tested and those who are not are lumped together in the same room.

Another 157 school districts do the only sensible thing by finding space in for non-test takers in rooms where testing is not being conducted so that they can participate in alternative educational activities.

It goes without saying that if you’re not allowing your daughter or son to be tested it is essential that you contact the school and find out what your kid will be doing during testing. If he or she is going to be ordered to gaze at a blank wall, you might want to make your voice heard at the next meeting of the school board. Clearly, an administrator who makes a kid sit motionless and speechless doesn’t know a thing about children and ought to be doing something else for a living.

Incidentally, if you decide that your kid will not be tested, you may be happy to know you’re in growing company. NYSUT United reports that 34,000 children have been exempted from testing by their parents. For a wealth of information about testing and opting out, check the New York State Allies for Public Education website.

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One Response to “Students Bored to Tears”

  1. R C Taplin Says:

    can the sudents take a brief nap???????

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