Opinion: The emotional toll of misguided education reform

As I write this, my 9-year-old child is sobbing over missing five math problems on her homework. School-related tears are pretty common these days, as are bouts of anxiety-induced nausea.

That's because the Tennessee state government has announced it will require summer school and possible retention if a third-grade student does not meet grade-level expectations on a single, end-of-year standardized test known as the TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program).

Last year, about 70% of students did not meet expectations.

I know kids in my child's class who are losing sleep and crying during benchmark testing. All of them are under tremendous pressure because of these new literacy laws.

We can debate policy and politics all day long, but I think it's imperative that state legislators understand the emotional toll these laws are having on the state's 8- and 9-year-olds.

While two-thirds of colleges and universities do not require the SAT for 2022 admission -- including Harvard -- the Tennessee state government has decided a child's readiness for fourth grade will be decided on one test, taken on one day.

I recall having multiple opportunities to take the SAT (and even LSAT). During the most pivotal moments of my academic career, I knew I had more than one chance to prove myself. I took comfort in the fact that other factors weighed into my acceptance decision because I, like so many other students, don't test well.

That is not the case for 8- and 9-year-olds living in Tennessee.

Their academic progress throughout the year, grade point average or evaluations from teachers who have been working with them every single day in the classroom will not be taken into consideration. They aren't even taking an average of the slew of standardized "benchmark" tests being used to prepare for the TCAP.

Ultimately, everyone's goal is to catch our children up from COVID learning loss. There are no easy answers, and it's challenging (to say the least) for parents, teachers, administrators and lawmakers as we stumble our way through solutions.

Considering that most children are behind, could we not meet them where they are and develop a long-range plan to get them where they need to be? Why must their summer be decided on a single standardized test?

These kids have already suffered the hellish nightmare of school during a pandemic. For roughly two years their learning has been interrupted by lengthy class quarantines, hybrid schedules, Zoom classrooms and parents who were woefully under-equipped to be their teachers.

They have soldiered through the disappointment of canceled summer camps and family vacations -- all critical parts of childhood. Now they might lose more formative summer experiences because they will be forced to go to school in June if they don't score a "3" on the reading portion of the TCAP.

My child attends a nationally recognized, Blue Ribbon public school. She's had tutoring twice a week for the past three semesters. She has put forth a Herculean effort and has made tremendous progress.

I feel she will be ready for the fourth grade by May. Her teachers agree. But it will all come down to one, single standardized test.

Can anyone who's ever been remotely involved in education -- either as a parent, educator, administrator or even a student -- defend this literacy law as a fair and reasonable way to evaluate our children's aptitude?

I beg our state legislators to reconsider this literacy law for the sake of everyone involved, especially these hard-working -- and very stressed out -- third graders.

Merrell McGinness is a local writer and resident of Lookout Mountain, Tenn.

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