“My language arts MCAS is coming up,” my fifth-grader announced earlier this month. We were having one-on-one time at the bus stop. We got back in the habit of waiting together when the iceberg next to our driveway got so big the driver couldn’t see him (this happened once and the bus passed him by: it was a bit traumatic). As soon as I see the bus’s flashing lights, I head back in.
“Are you worried about it?”
“No, not really.”
“Good, you shouldn’t be. The test really isn’t about you so much…”
“It’ll help me get into a good college, won’t it?”
“No, no one looks at that for a college application. I think you have to do well enough on the MCAS before they let you out of high school, though.”
“Then why do we have to take them?”
“So the school system can prove how good it is to the state – it determines the level of funding…I think.”
“Did I get good scores on the ones from last year?”
“I don’t know. I forget. I’ll dig up the results if you really want. It doesn’t matter that much to me – I care more about the quizzes and tests you bring home and your report card.”
It was true, I didn’t remember, and don’t care. We had talked about it last fall, when he’d asked me for the umpteenth time, “Mom, can I look at my MCAS scores?”
“Think about it for a minute. If you did really well, are you going to be able to keep from talking about it with your friends?” Blank look. “Will you boast about it to your brother?” Small smirk.
“Or, what if you did really poorly, would you think you’re stupid?”
“Do you know that Grandma never told me what my IQ is?”
“What’s an IQ?”
“Well, it’s a number that’s supposed to measure your intelligence.”
“Didn’t you ever want to know?”
“Yeah, sometimes. But it’s just a number, really. Does it matter?”
We just finished reading The Report Card by Andrew Clements in my middle son’s fourth-grade literature circle. Not wanting to be left out, my oldest read it, too. The story is about an off-the-charts smart girl who purposely gets bad grades just to prove a point: that grades don’t necessarily measure your intelligence.
I translated the lesson into my boys’ universal language: “If you make a bad play or lose a baseball game, does it mean you are a failure or a loser? No, it just means you made an error or lost the game. When we make mistakes or get a bad grade, the most important things to do are learn something, move on, and try to do better next time.”
“Do your best,” I said to the fourth graders at the bus stop as they headed off to fight the good fight with their long composition MCAS (and I said the same thing to my fifth-grader the next day). They had been prepared for this moment all year. What more could be asked of them?