By Mordechai Schmutter
School is back in session (in case you didn’t realize, and were wondering where all of your friends went all of a sudden), and you should start paying attention now, because there are going to be tests.
I feel like I have to mention this. I teach a tenth-grade class, all of the students in which have been in school for ten years now, some of them more, and this totally shocks them every single year. Like they haven’t had tests in the past ten years.
“There are going to be tests?” they ask, falling out of their seats. “Wait, we’re supposed to be learning the things that you’re teaching?”
Apparently, they assume it’s like a shul, where the rabbi gets up and tries to teach everyone, but at the end of the day, if you don’t know something, you can call him with she’eilos.
The students probably know about tests, but they’re just hoping there won’t be any, because tests are stressful. You have to cram all this information into your head when you weren’t even paying attention when the teacher taught it the first time, and any time you want to do anything fun that week, your parents ask, “Don’t you have a test coming up?”—all so that when the teacher gives out the test paper your mind can suddenly go blank, and even though you’ve been taught numerous times in school about helping others and working as a team, all of a sudden when you ask someone else for an answer, it’s cheating.
Hey, if you’d let me ask other people for answers, then it wouldn’t be cheating.
And then your parents give you a speech about how they don’t pay all that tuition so that when you don’t know something taught in school, you at least know which friend to call for answers.
But what are you supposed to do? Study? No matter how much you study, you always feel like you haven’t studied enough. How much is enough? How much is too much? The teacher thinks he’s doing you this big favor by telling you about the test two weeks before he gives it, but who on earth studies for a test two weeks in advance? Wouldn’t you have to study again right before the test? Why put off to tomorrow something you can do next week?
So tests are stressful, and we teachers give you tests primarily because we hate you. Or maybe because we want to see if we’re teaching you anything, and if we’re not, then maybe force you to learn it on your own, on the last day of the term, in a mad panic.
Oh, so it’s really for the teacher to see if we’re learning something. It’s not for us at all.
My students also want to know, every time, what kind of test it’s going to be. Most kids prefer one of these three types:
Multiple choice, because the answers are all right there. You just have to know where to look.
True-or-false tests, because not only do you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right, but usually the answer is going to be “true,” because the teacher wrote the test, and he knows most of the answers. He’d have to make a conscious decision if he was going to stick false information into the question.
Matching is actually the best kind of test. You just draw a big spiderweb in the middle of the page, and the teacher can sort out which line you meant to go where.
But tests aren’t really a picnic for us, either. You have to take one test—we have to grade all of them, and make them up in the first place, and decipher all the spiderwebs in everyone’s matching section. And we also have to field questions every single day of the year: “Is this going to be on the test?”
Yes. I said, “Today is test review day.” Everything I say today is going to be on the test.
And anyway, in my experience, if I admit on a given day that “No, this won’t be on the test,” not a single person will be listening. Even the good guys will just decide to do homework for the other classes. And if no one’s listening, I specifically want to put it on the test, to teach them to listen.
“But why do we have to know this if it isn’t going to be on the test?”
Because you don’t come to school just to learn how to pass tests that are also given in school.
Well, except for the standardized tests that are administered by the government. The government is always giving standardized tests, so they can see how far we are behind other countries, such as Uzbekistan (really far, which is pretty bad, since, as you may have noticed, all the tests are in English) so they can figure out which kids need to be caught up so they can get higher scores on the next standardized test.
The good news is that at least those tests are multiple-choice. But first the instructor has to give you a whole spiel at the beginning, every single time, about how to fill in the multiple-choice circles, although arguably, if you don’t know how to color in circles, chances are you’re going to bomb on the actual material. They also go into what you should do if you’ve accidentally filled in the wrong one, unless you want the marking machine to explode.
And of course you always have to bring in #2 pencils, even if you somehow know where you can possibly buy other numbers of pencil. (Uzbekistan?) Why always #2 pencils? Why hasn’t marking machine technology advanced by now? But while we’re all fretting about what kind of pencil we need to use, and how each student has to bring in at least three of them—like the moment the test starts everyone’s pencil points are just going to start snapping off—and dealing with how to fix a circle that you colored in by accident (even though the entire point of using a pencil is that it has an eraser), all the other countries have already finished their tests.
Which brings me to today’s good news, if you’re a student: If you live in New York City (if you’re not sure, pay more attention in geography class), they’re passing legislation that will ban 50 words and topics from all standardized tests. I’ve seen the list, and from what I can tell, they fall into four basic categories (bear in mind that I am not making up a single thing on this list; I feel like I have to mention this):
I. Items that might offend people, such as:
II. Items that might give kids bad ideas:
Junk food (such as 20-ounce sodas)
III. Items that might introduce unpleasant memories that will distract students during the test:
Creatures from outer space
Vermin, such as rats and roaches
IV. Items that might evoke distracting feelings of jealousy in kids that don’t have them:
Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
Homes that have swimming pools
Words that suggest wealth
So in other words, you can’t mention sad things, but you also can’t mention happy things.
The point of these items, according to officials, is that “These words can evoke unpleasant emotions in some students.”
Unpleasant emotions? You mean like taking a test in the first place?
My question is that if you can’t mention any of these things, what exactly is supposed to be on the social-studies test?
But the point is that with all these words being cut, not only will tests be shorter, they’ll also be easier. Like for instance, if they can’t ask about junk food, all the math questions will have to be about apples. But not too many apples, because that would be a luxury. On the other hand, for all we know, the test writers will just take the controversial words out of the tests and leave blanks, so that they’re impossible to answer:
Essay Question: In 300 words or more, explain how you feel about _____, how it was affected by ____, and particularly how it contributed to the _______. (35 points)
That will definitely pull us ahead of Uzbekistan. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.