Hello, I am ME.

I am sitting in an eighth grade history classroom.

This marks the 15th consecutive day we have answered practice standardized test questions as our daily bell work. Not just in this class, but in all my other core classes too. We are also doing more worksheets and review activities. We are using our “Buckle Down” workbooks to make sure we have memorized enough random facts to regurgitate them on the state test. It’s drudgery. It’s boring. I hate it!

It wasn’t always this way. Most of the time before spring break, this class was fun. My teacher is awesome. She always greets us at the door with a smile and an encouraging word. She normally teaches the class with energy and enthusiasm. She tells great stories and her love of history is contagious. Most of my friends and I have caught the bug.

Prior to “test prep season,” we did fun activities and had lively discussions about current events. We worked together on projects and helped each other learn. We smiled and laughed. Time flew by in this class and we didn’t want to leave when the bell rang.

However, in the past few weeks, my teacher has changed. I can see the stress in her eyes and hear it in her voice. I also know there is a lot of pressure on the school to do well on the tests. My principal talks about it on the announcements almost every day. We even had a stupid pep rally to try to motivate us to do well. I know everyone just wants us to do our best. But, I wish my real teacher would come back.

I am sitting in a testing room with 60 other students, some of whom I know, others I do not.

I have never been in this room before. But, this place looks, smells, and feels SERIOUS. All posters have been removed. There are no words or pictures anywhere and the walls are sanitary and bland.

My teacher, along with a few other adults I do not know, circulate the room. Seemingly, they are not allowed to talk, be nice, or smile. They must read the directions–and only the directions as written. They must watch to see that there is no cheating. They are not even allowed to read a book or look at their phone while we are testing as their eyes must be on us constantly. There is no energy, engagement, or collaboration. I bet this is how prisoners feel.

There are rules about who can move, how and when to take a bathroom break, and what happens if a student gets ill and has to leave. I am sitting next to a student with allergies who will sniffle and snort for the next two hours. It would help me to wear my headphones and listen to some music, yet this is not allowed. The air is still and stuffy as the air conditioner struggles to keep the temperature comfortable in this overcrowded room.

I can tell my teacher is nervous. Last week, she told us a story about a teacher who was threatened with her job because she disposed of scrap paper incorrectly. All of the students in the room know this is high-stakes. Because someone didn’t think we would take this test seriously (they were right), passage of this test is required for us to get a driver’s license next year. Why do you treat us like three-year-olds? Threats like this don’t help. They just make us more nervous…and angry.

It takes us 20 additional minutes to get started as some students have trouble getting logged in or are missing a testing ticket. The students are restless but we are not allowed to talk or move.

The test is untimed, which mean some of us will finish in 40 minutes and others in two hours. We are crowded together on small benches, each staring at a 10-inch laptop screen. If we finish early, we are not allowed to get up or leave. Instead, we must stay on this uncomfortable bench and quietly read a book for up to an hour.  I wonder how much you would enjoy this!

We are finally able to begin the test. The first passage is about farming cotton somewhere in Mississippi. I have never been on a farm and have lived in an apartment my entire life. In fact, I have never even had a yard.

The next passage is about the Roman Empire. I get stuck on a question about the catacombs. I think to myself, “What is this stupid question asking?

I would typically ask my teacher for clarification but she is not allowed to view my test at anytime. I am on my own. I really don’t care at this point. I guess “B.”

Thankfully, I have always been pretty good at tests. But, I worry about my friends who aren’t. My best friend, Seth, stayed home “sick” today because of his anxiety over the test. He failed last year and had to take an extra hour of reading this year instead of band, a subject he loves. He is afraid it might happen again. If it does, he will have to give it up because he has fallen too far behind the other clarinet players. That sucks!

After about an hour, the words on my screen begin to blur together and boredom starts to hold my neurons hostage. I rush to finish. I sure could use some music.  Science has proven this effective for many kids and I always listen to music when I study. Yet, we test in silence, which causes my mind to wander and lose focus. A cup of coffee would also be great.

I am standing in the hallway with my friends.

Most of us are relieved that this ordeal is finally over. Caitlin, a girl in my math class, is crying. She missed passing the test by one answer. I tell her to not worry about it–that she is smart in lots of other ways. She turns and walks away.

Here is the way I see it.

Why are you always trying to measure ME? And, why do you think these stupid tests give you any insight about what I have learned and what I am capable of doing?

Trying to measure the capacity of my brain with a multiple choice test is like trying to measure my character with a ruler or the depth of my heart with a thermometer.

You will never be able to measure me with a test. You will never be able to discern all that I know and what I don’t. Do you know I built a working computer in my bedroom using parts I bought online. Have you done this? Could YOU do this?

Do you know Caitlin volunteers at the local animal shelter eight hours a week and dreams one day of being a veterinarian? Today you made her cry and doubt herself.

The reality is you will never know what we love and what we hate. What brings us joy and what scares us. What lights up our minds and what puts it to sleep. How we think and how we feel.

Your tests are useless. Instead of constantly trying to see if I a measure up against some arbitrary standard based on the “average 14-year-old,” why don’t you measure ME against ME.

And not with a damn multiple choice test. Because all you will get is a superficial and inaccurate picture of ME. This test does not define me or reflect who I really am.

Instead, talk with me. Befriend me. Engage with me and ask me what I think. LET me think.

Love me, keep me safe, care for me, nurture me, mentor me, and yes, occasionally discipline me so I can learn behaviors for success as well as knowledge and skills.

Teach me. Contrary to what some may think, I want to learn. I love to learn. I just don’t always want to learn what you think is important. But, you never seem to ask me what I think is important.

Could you just let ME be ME? Stop trying to see how I measure up against others. I don’t need to be ranked and sorted. I am unique. I am special. I have value. I am lovable just the way I am.

Help me discover the hidden talents and passions in me rather than try to fit me in a mold based on your life experience.

I am who I am meant to be. I was created by God to fulfill my purpose in life, through HIM, and not through you.

I am a work in progress, an unfinished masterpiece.

I am who I choose to be.

I am not you. You are not me.

I am not just a widget to slide into your place when you retire or fade away. My future is different from your’s, so stop trying to make me fit into YOUR’S.

I am ME.

Isn’t that enough? Are you even still listening?