Thursday, April 14, 2011

Because I Said So: It's survival of the feddest as students brave TCAP

The column, "Because I Said So," is about my kids. Or, supposed to be about my kids, but I can't help talking about myself and my own childhood in many of them. It isn't narcissism (I don't think ... maybe it is), but more because, even at the age of forty, I don't feel so far removed from my kids' ages of four to thirteen. It seems as though it was only yesterday that I was running through my neighborhood in jeans with a hole forming in the knee searching for a new tree to climb or insect to pester.

I still have that sense of childhood within me. Either that or a very, very good memory.

So I like to reminisce a bit before getting into the meat of what it is my kids are getting into. Today, I remember standardized testing (I have to say, too, that this is one of my favorite headlines of any column I've written - It's survival of the feddest as students brave TCAP. Thank you to whomever wrote it). I remember the pencils and the erasing and the long hours of silence and watching the clock. What I don't remember is the food. That must be new. Standardized testing today is just as dull, just as mentally taxing, yet a whole lot more delicious.

Once every year as grade school students, our regular curriculum of multiplication tables, phonics and dodgeball would be put on hold so that we could take something called the California Achievement Test. It was ostensibly to find out whether Tennessee's elementary school kids were smarter than those of California. I hope I did us proud.

Our usual lessons, like Han Solo frozen in carbonite, were still there, though merely hibernating and awaiting that standardized diversion to end. During that week, it was imperative that we show up to school on time and with two No. 2 pencils sharpened to acute points.

Other than the pencils, I don't remember much else that was expected of us during these daylong timed tests except to sit still, focus, keep the lead within the little answer ovals and erase thoroughly if necessary.

That menu has changed.

Memphis City Schools has administered the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) achievement tests to a very suspecting student population this week. As I write this, I sit surrounded by a ream of informational letters sent via my kids' backpacks regarding TCAP preparedness. In addition, I count 34 e-mails sent since Jan. 1 of this year and several voicemails last week from the board of education concerning the tests.

In these e-mails, forms and phone calls, we parents are encouraged to have our children sleep, feed them and even send food to school to snack on throughout the day. I'm not sure how the rigors of standardized testing affect their hunger, but I picture a room full of kids penciling in multiple choice answers while running on treadmills. The available buffet is necessary to keep them hydrated and fueled as though this week is more survivalist reality show than cerebral question and answer.

It seems that in addition to being tested on multiplication, vocabulary and reading comprehension, they may also be tested for body mass index, glycemic index and cholesterol levels. After force-feeding them heaping helpings of anxiety over their test performance the past few weeks, the administration is imploring them to eat healthy during the course of this week.

The pleading for rest and food has been ceaseless and the advice obvious. It is the time of the school year when our children are tested in basic aptitude and parents are tested for common sense. We have even been handed a script. One of the informative voicemails is a team of concerned callers who banter back and forth like a lethargic Abbott and Costello, advising us to provide positive motivation to our kids with phrases such as "I know you're going to do great" and "The TCAP won't know what hit it."

It was inspiring.

My son brought home a TCAP practice workbook, and I tried my hand at a few of the math problems. I found that I am woefully below standard in the subject. Not only that, but I found that I was incredibly hungry and quite sleepy after.

I understand that the tests help the school administration, though I am unsure of how, or if, they help students. I can rest easy, though, knowing that at the end of the week my children will be well fed and well rested, and probably just as standard as ever.

Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Alley and Stacey Greenberg, the mother of two boys, take turns on Thursdays telling stories of life with kids in Memphis. Read more from her at and Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook: