The Goody Bag Generation: Conformity, Performance and Privileges in State Testing

These past 7 months have been some of the craziest of my life in a long time.  This past fall my daughter became depressed while away at school in Ohio.   Helping her through her difficult time from 800 miles away via the telephone was challenging…to say the least.  Then my father, now 84 became very ill and almost passed away at Christmas in the midst of their trying to sell their condo and buy a new house.  Then February 1st, I get a frantic phone call from my Dad telling me they are across the river watching their condo burn up in flames.  That night they moved in and stayed for 6 weeks.  The day after my parents moved out my son crashed my new car and it has been in the shop ever since.   And then my dear friend Karen lost her son, Jimmy to cancer.

And yet here I am 7 months later and my daughter has made some very difficult and adult decisions to improve her life and is doing fabulously.  My Dad recovered miraculously and is doing better than ever.  My parents have moved to their little house up north and although my car is in the shop, it is all good.  What is not so good is my friend Karen.  How does one even begin to live after losing a child?  I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.

 It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.   


And so here I find myself evaluating what really matters in life when I receive a letter from my son’s High School punctuating, yet again what really matters in our public school systems.

The first paragraph states that several years ago our 11th grade students were not performing well on the State Test, NECAP.  It goes on to say that the “Data Strategies Team” (don’t even get me started here!!)  investigated and interviewed students to understand their lack of motivation.  This study revealed that our students got smart and stopped performing on state tests because they realized these tests had nothing to do with their futures because they did not have anything to do with their class ranks or GPA’s.   (I was on the school board at this point in time and remember celebrating these students and how smart and courageous they were!)


The second paragraph goes on to say that after these findings they decided to create a big fat carrot in the name of senior privileges for those juniors who achieved a score of “proficient”  or above in all three areas of reading, math and writing on these state tests.

The third paragraph tells me “You are receiving this letter because your son or daughter will be allowed Junior Privileges beginning April 29th”.  This means that my son can leave campus during unassigned periods and it allows him the freedom to “go to various destinations within in the building.”  It is his get out of jail card and all because he was able to perform FOR them.

I am outraged by this…what are we doing hanging out carrots for a one time test?  What about those kids who may not test well?  What if those same kids who bombed the test are stellar students working hard each and every day?  What about students with Special Needs?  WHAT are we rewarding here?   And why?


Why?  I will tell you why…because these tests have nothing to do with our kids, how they learn or  their futures…it is all about feeding the big number crunching machine to demonstrate that our schools are not failing.

Well…I would argue the opposite.  School is failing my son miserably and yet he gets these privileges because he conformed and performed and did what was expected of him…NOT because he was learning, thinking, creating, wondering, exploring and discovering the joy of learning.  What is the greater message we are sending here?

Is it just me?  I am sure that some parents might be celebrating his or her child’s ability to test well and “earn” these special privileges.  The letter is written on beautiful school stationary to be framed and hung on the wall.  Another badge of honor to be worn by parents to show their child measures up.  But not me.

It is just another reminder that it is not about our kids and their learning.  What matters is that our students consistently conform, perform and then get a goody bag for doing so.

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17 thoughts on “The Goody Bag Generation: Conformity, Performance and Privileges in State Testing

  1. Oh, this really strikes a chord as we approach this year’s testing window. I remember my son being given extra credit for bringing in canned food. He passed Statistics because he brought in six cans (all his backpack would hold) every day for two weeks. Really?

  2. Oh my gosh! When things happen they seem to come in bunches. I am glad to hear that things have calmed down for you and your family now. I am so sorry for your friend. I can’t imagine the grief she is going through.
    The part of the article about your son also made me mad. I am only guessing, but the majority of parents probably do not have your foresight and think their child is just wonderful. How do we change this?

  3. We are dangling carrots in front of our students to get them to conform and honestly I don’t know if it will get any better. I hope that it does. But because of the state of my state (Illinois), I don’t know if that hope is in vain!

  4. Sadly, teaching to the test comes in many forms. As long as folks like you keep noticing then hopefully it won’t become the only option for proving that learning occured. Btw, I’m willing to bet that the creative thinking message you’re giving your son will have more impact than that fancy-schmancy hall pass he was given.

  5. I feel the same way about conformity and education. My son does well in this respect. My daughter, not so much. She’s labeled as a problem student despite her obvious displays of advanced understanding. And, though my son does well, he’s rewarded for “fitting in”. I hate it.

  6. Reblogged this on theelusiveMrD and commented:
    Exactly what i am going through.My colleagues et special attention from my professors because they have 90+ attendance and score well on tests.Whereas few others and i,being unwittingly weak in the subjects don’t even have a chance to improve because the teachers just wont accept that we are trying hard to learn. This is extreme injustice. And getting increasingly intolerable.

    • Thanks for stopping by. Loved your poem, by the way. I could not agree more that it is getting increasingly intolerable. There is a corporate takeover of our public schools and it is not doing anything to help any of our kids.

    • I believe there are lots of like-minded teachers, but they are afraid of losing their jobs…even though it is rare for teachers to actually lose their jobs the threat is very real to them. Scary. Thanks for stopping by and responding!

  7. I hate these tests! We have our own version of these tests in Australia and they do not show anything about the child – our tests are outrageously linked to school funding, so schools like the one I teach at are always at desperation trying to get kids through the test in the most meaningful way we can. We have a high special needs intake as well as second language learners who cannot possibly perform well. It’s an absolute disgrace! I feel your pain!

    • We are experiencing these same things here as schools are deemed as “failing” and funding is limited. Often times it is the special needs population or second language learners who are not prepared to perform and thus bring the scores down for the entire school. I did not realize that Australia was under the same guns. We are embarking on a nation wide set of standards called the Common Core that will move us more in this direction than ever. Big companies are waiting for failures to come in and “cure” all with their programs. It is a disgrace. Are your tests tied to any programs?

      • We have a reading, writing, language conventions and numeracy component to the tests, which run over 3 days, starting in May. Only students who have been in the country less than a year or are funded special needs (very few are funded as the government has much stricter criteria now) are exempt from the test. Where I work we have changed our whole school curriculum to include 4 periods of intensive streamed literacy based lessons for the first 2 years of high school (so 13 – 14yr olds) in order to raise literacy standards. We too are heading toward a National Curriculum, which we have managed to stall for 2 years as we have had on going industrial action with work bans only lifted last week. It’s a tough road and it’s always the more disadvantaged schools that suffer (although the more ‘gifted’ students are not nearly extended enough).

  8. I thought the feds were dismantling NCLB itself – not just tossing out the name, but rejecting its major premise – as promised! I was an education reporter for many years, and I never saw anything erode the culture of a school and its relationships faster, nor more ineviteably doom direct, clear commiunication with school boards and parents, than that little gift George W. left the nation.
    A national case of the measles would have been a refreshing alternative.

    Hey, thanks very much for stopping by my blog

    • Claire,
      While NCLB might be a thing of the past the New national state standards called the Common Core is right there in it’s place and may prove to be even more damaging, if that is possible, than NCLB. I have written other posts about these standards which as they stand alone are not that bad. What is lurking behind these standards are the massive tests that are computer generated that will be the thing that might bring our schools to a halt. The only people benefitting from these tests will be corporate America, Pearson is a big name as they are distributing the tests and then have the magic bullet programs to be bought when schools fail. And failure is part of the plan because grade level expectations have been lowered by a good 2 grades. So now kindergarteners should know and be able to perform what 2nd graders used to be asked to do. That and computer companies as schools will have to upgrade to even take these tests.
      Thanks for stopping by yourself!

  9. My big take-away from this is that even though we, as individuals, know that the only real victories are the smaller ones that only come after great effort, our leaders still think they can score massive ones with little effort.
    Stupid when you think about it, huh?

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