It’s time we start caring about tests

Published 4:50 pm Wednesday, March 14, 2007

When I was a kid, and even still today, a test was important because it was a test.

It didn’t matter who saw the grades or what the consequences were. Tests demanded full attention.

But attention is exactly what Concordia Parish teachers and principals fear they won’t have next week. And in two months, teachers in Natchez-Adams schools will face the same fears.

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Louisiana state tests come considerably earlier in the year than Mississippi ones, but the river divide doesn’t make the circumstances much different.

When teachers hand out the test booklets, eyes glaze over, brains melt and smart students stare out the window.

Sure, the overachievers perform well. The nervous ones panic. And a few others simply do their best, even if it’s not good enough.

But, on average, generally speaking from Ferriday to Morgantown, Miss-Lou children don’t do well on state tests.

Teachers will tell you stories of watching students skip entire portions of the test. (Test administrators aren’t allowed to speak to students, telling them what parts to fill out.)

Other students get too confused by questions and just stop.

Some fill in answers to get through.

Don’t they care? No, not enough of them do.

In Louisiana, the state gives fourth- and eighth-graders a reason to care. In Mississippi, it’s the third- and seventh-graders that matter. These are the benchmark, high-stakes years.

Without a passing grade on the state tests, students can’t move up to the next grade.

But the other grades are tested, too.

And though there aren’t immediate consequences for the individual students, the results can make or break a school, a district and a community.

All the results are factored into school performance scores or stars and average yearly progress. In a school where too many youngsters stare out the window, the overall ranking is low.

The consequences tend to detract from overall school advancement. Financial rewards don’t come. School pride collapses. The community points fingers. Industry keeps driving to the next stop on the highway.

When I was a kid, I cared about tests.

My mom cared about tests. My dad cared about tests. My Sunday school teacher cared about tests. My community cared about tests.

In my graduating class, from public school, the top 15 or so students finished high school with above a 4.0 thanks to hard work and Advanced Placement classes.

We drove each other. We competed to be the best because the others were already good.

And we knew if we didn’t care, the banner hanging outside the building bragging on our excellence would come down. The community would find something else to talk about.

But in the Miss-Lou, that’s already happened.

The community isn’t talking about the schools, not in a good way anyway.

We don’t drive our students to be better, to care.

So they don’t.

And we don’t.

And the cycle continues.

It’s past time for this community to care about tests.

Concordia Parish schools kick things off on Monday morning. Natchez tests will come in early May.

It’s time to start talking. And caring.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or