Let them fill in the bubbles and JUST MOVE ON – a mother’s call to minimize standardized testing stress

I debated writing this blog.

It’s one of those situations where as a person who blogs (I still can’t publicly call myself a writer) you internally struggle with putting your family and your beliefs out there publicly, because there will likely be strong opinions and comments of all sort in return.

In the end I decided it was worth it.

So here goes…

First I want to say that children and education and parenting and politics can all be sticky topics. And while my husband and I have choices we believe in, I understand and appreciate that yours may differ from mine and I genuinely appreciate that. One thing working in the homes of families for more than 10 years has taught me is that what works for me might be awful for you and vice versa.

There you go. Now on to the important part.

If you, like us, choose public education for your children, then they likely begin the ritual of standardized testing in the 3rd grade. We believe and appreciate as taxpayers and as parents that there needs to be a way to measure accountability and progress for schools. However, we, like many American parents, aren’t super pleased with the job that the current testing process is doing. We have a current 5th grader and current 3rd grader and can say with confidence that the tests our oldest daughter has taken (and done well on)  have never been able to fully assess the incredible progress we and her teachers have seen through the years or more importantly measure the talent or work performance of her stellar teachers.

A bigger problem to us as parents is the pressure associated with the test. Because the schools here in our state (WV) are required to document to the state how they are “preparing kids to take the test” and “letting them know how important the test is,” there are lots of activities, written and verbal interactions, and general overkill (in my opinion) that this test is a big deal. Do you remember pep rallies for a standardized test when you were a kid? How about signs cheering you on? Or multiple letters sent home to your parents reminding you to go to bed early and eat a great breakfast? Yea – me neither. We showed up, got new pencils, filled in the bubbles completely (not half way now – that was the only thing stressed), and went to recess.  Is all the “hype” needed?

We enthusiastically say NO! Why? Because kids naturally know it matters and they will either try their best or they won’t. I’d love to see a study that proves the letters home about the importance of breakfast increases test scores. You know what I know for sure it does increase? TEST STRESS. You know how I know? My 5th grader started sleep walking and mumbling about standardized testing in the 3rd grade. There is nothing creepier than walking up to a zombie eyed kid mumbling about taking a test while hovering over you in bed. Worse yet, my current 3rd grader, spent the night before her first day of testing dry heaving for 90 minutes. That kind of did me in as a Mom. I’m tough, but not that tough.

My husband and I debated (passionately I might add) about what to do. My mom is a long term educator and past principal. I know the school needs test scores. I also know my kid needs to worry about riding her bike an extra 10 minutes vs. vomiting over a test at night. We want to advocate for our children AND their teachers. The question is how to do that? There’s a large “Opt Out” movement currently, with some state superintendents actually encouraging parents to opt out with the reasoning that educators can’t change legislation so maybe data will. I understand that desperate thought process (to be honest it tempts me), but I also know in the short term, right here in my corner of the world, it may hurt my precious school and teachers. So I communicated with my daughter’s teacher, prayed, and in the end she was fine the next day when she realized it wasn’t as bad as she had imagined.

And then I wrote to my elected officials. To be honest, even though I am a very optimistic person, I have little faith this will help, but I did it, because I have to do something. And when I shared it with my best friend (and co-owner of Milestones & Miracles), she immediately said, “Share it on the blog.”

So here it is. Here’s my letter. I know it will likely be met with comments of how others handled it differently or how they opted out of a test or even opted out of public education all together and like I said before, that is ok and to be expected. We choose these schools and this village for our children for many reasons not mentioned here (even with a crummy test).  This letter might not be the best option of how I can advocate for my child, her teachers, and her school, but it is the best I have right now. So it is what I offer until I have something better. I shared it with her principal and thanked her for leading educators who care about my child’s future more than a test score.

To me, the real question is, for those of us who continue to want to access public education for our children, what is the most effective way to support both our children and our schools?

Dear Senator,

I am writing to share my opinion regarding our current education system and state testing policies in WV.

Let me start by sharing that as a daughter of a life long educator (most of those years in WV) and a parent who is beyond pleased with the education and experiences my daughters have received, I am a supporter and believer in public education. I have seen my mother change and inspire countless lives. I have witnessed teachers pouring their talents into my daughters and their classmates and not just caring but putting concern into action with students who are unsafe at home. When I speak of their creative projects, their involvement with the First Lego League, and the personal relationships with school staff that have fostered a deep love of learning for my children, people assume I send my children to private school. I beam with pride when I can correct them by saying my children actually attend public school in one of the poorest states in the country. The teachers and administrators we have encountered here in Berkeley County can and often do bring me to grateful tears.

Today is the first day that my 9 year old will take a standardized test. She is a confident and bright child that does well in school and has never complained about a test, an assignment, or going to school. On the contrary, she cries when she is sick and has to miss school! Last night, she shook, hyperventilated, and dry heaved for 90 minutes before bed – because she is “scared of the test.” This is a child that competed individually at the state gymnastics meet, played a main role in the school play, and speaks at our church in front of hundred of adults without even a mention of nervousness. My confident bright child was physically ill last night…because of a test.


As I helped her take deep breaths, reassured her she was well prepared, and promised her that this test will have no affect on her future, I became quite frustrated and angry. What are we doing to our children?

I work for a federally and state funded program (as a Physical Therapist for WV Birth To Three) and so I understand the need for accountability. As a taxpayer I expect it. When we force our teachers to give tests that do not test true knowledge, we place them in a hard position. They feel the pressure and without ill-will pass that pressure on to our children. When we require administrators to document what they are doing to “motivate students to try hard/do well on the test,” we create unneeded stress on children. I would be curious to see if this well-meaning requirement actually hinders their scores. I understand that many children in our state do not have parents at home who are prioritizing or supporting education, but I’m not sure pep rallies for tests, signs cheering students on, and notes and constant verbal reminders on what to feed our children and when to put them to bed will solve that. The extra hype creates hysteria for my child and others. I firmly believe if she could come in and take the test with a good ‘ol “do your best” parents would not be seeing these clear signs of anxiety in our children.
As a home provider of early intervention in many of these at risk homes, might I suggest that working to change that culture in the home 365 days a year vs. the week before testing with community and school support that involves families might be more effective? There are better ways to do what needs to be done. If you haven’t read “The Smartest Kids In The World And How They Got That Way” by Amanda Ripley. I strongly encourage you to. It opened my eyes to the countries that are doing great things with fewer resources than we have here in the US.

I also work as a small business owner dedicated to providing educational support to families, reminding them what typical child development looks like (as a nation we are forgetting this), supporting a child’s need and right for free and safe unstructured play, and encouraging movement and sensory based learning experiences. One way my business partner and I do this is by going into schools and providing continuing education on how the young brain learns best and then problem solving ways for teachers to do this while still meeting state standards.

As a business owner I will continue to do this.

As an early intervention therapist I will continue to try to attempt to strengthen WV families and empower them to be involved with their children’s learning from the start.

As a parent, I will continue to advocate for my child and others, pray for their impressionable minds, and reassure my child that her individualized learning can’t be appropriately measured by one current standardized test. I will also support my child’s hard working and underappreciated teachers and administrators.

What will you do?


Nicole Sergent

Martinsburg, WV

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