This was the comfort I could offer my nine-year-old daughter as she headed out the door to begin a week of testing she knows as "eye sats."
Teachers have been warning Scout and her classmates that if they don't score well on the Illinois State Assessment Test they will have to go to summer school. To a kid, as the teachers well know, the words "summer school" sound like "Siberian death camp."
Sweetheart, you get almost all As. No matter what happens on the test, you're not going to summer school.
A few weeks ago, I got tired of reassuring my kid that her teachers were making empty threats, and explaining to her that it's the school and the teachers who are really being tested, and they're terrified the kids aren't going to take the weeklong test seriously enough. I emailed the homeroom teacher and asked her if she agreed that the pressure being applied was inappropriate and counterproductive besides. She said she had only just realized how scared the kids were and acknowledged the need to "build them up" for the test.
Scout reported to me that the next day the teacher told the class that during the ISATs, they would get mints.
Then late last week the homeroom teacher sent us a blank piece of green lined paper and a request: "I'd like every student to have a personalized letter of encouragement from you, their families, on our first day of testing. If you could take a few minutes to write a message for your child to encourage them to do their best I'd really appreciate it! (So will your kids!) … Please find the attached stationary [sic] for your letter and return in their homework folder (with your child's name on it in a sealed envelope please) … I know we are going to SCORE BIG on the ISAT :)"
Another panicky note from the teacher: "I only ask that they come to school well rested having gone to bed early. Those students that may not like the school breakfest, it is important that they eat breakfast at home if they will not eat it at school."
"This operation is planned as a victory," General Eisenhower said before D-Day. "We're going down there, and we're throwing everything we have into it." (Ike also drafted a statement to be issued in case the invasion failed: "The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.")
Then at the 11th hour—Friday afternoon—we got note from an unknown-to-us-but-literarily named "Ms. Malinowski" advising parents to have "a positive attitude about the tests so that their child feels confident."
"Help your child battle sudden anxiety by teaching simple, on-the-spot relaxation techniques," the comminuqué went on to say. "Discover together what method works best: for some kids, it means closing your eyes for a moment and visualizing a happy, peaceful place, like the beach or a favorite park. For other kids, it helps to take five deep breaths. These techniques will come in handy during other stressful moments in life, so work together to find out what works and practice stress-reducing techniques with your kids."
For the last time, I told Scout to do her best and not worry a moment about the results, which were meant to grade her teachers, not her.
It must be disturbing enough to her young and healthy mind to know that her teachers' professional worth is to be judged by the performance of nine-year-olds who are floating up and down a continuum from spaced out to stressed out.
Now who would like a mint?