Throwing Up Over NCLB

I keep hearing this anti-NCLB tale about kids vomiting on test booklets because they're so nervous about the tests -- a story usually told to vilify NCLB, state testing, etc. I think it comes from the 2003 Mike Winerip column about a kid who barfs because he might not pass to the next grade (not an NCLB provision, by the way). There may be other instances, and obviously the story resonates for many folks who want to believe what they hear (like the supposed rapes in the New Orleans Superdome last year).

But even if it's true, it makes me angry not so much at a law that requires annual testing to measure school (not student) performance but rather at the teachers and administrators who would convey so much anxiety and pressure onto the students. There's not supposed to be any real consequence for the students, and if they've attended and been taught then all they have to do is their best. Pressuring kids to the point they get sick is understandable, and it probably happens all the time, but it's not really the fault of the law.

UPDATE: At least one district test official (see comment below) says that kids throwing up on testing day is nothing new.


Anonymous joe o'reilly said...

I have overseen testing in a large district for a long time.
Students throwing up on tests (1-3 per year out of 55,000+) have always
happened and is not due to NCLB.

Interestingly, when we went from spring testing to fall the number of students throwing up almost disappeared. When the state switched back to spring testing we again had a couple of incidents. I guessed that teachers did not see fall tests as a reflection on their efforts and so did not play up the tests. Of course, some of the pressure comes from parents and we have had students come in all worked up from home.

Joe O'Reilly
Executive Director for Student Achievement Support
Mesa Public Schools

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While few would consider testing fun per se, there are many people who enjoy testing themselves to see what they know, what skills they possess, how fast they can run, how well they can perform, etc. It's how we measure the level of practice and effort we've put into a subject, a sport, or an instrument. We should be teaching students to look forward to assessments as an opportunity to take stock for themselves and demonstrate to others what they know and can do. It's not the tests themselves having a nausea inducing effect on students, it's the attitude towards the tests. While I can understand the peer and family pressure to do well on tests for upper class high achievers, I would think poor teachers would be especially fearful of testing and might transfer that fear to their students. Teachers should relish the opportunity for students to show off what they have learned, and transmit that attitude to their students.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Andrew Pass Educational Services, LLC said...

I couldn't agree more. Thanks for writing the post. When camps are anxious to pass the ACA accreditation they don't pressure their campers. When restaurants are eager to pass the health inspection they don't pester their customers. Doctors don't demand that their patients get healthy so that they can keep their licenses. Educators should educate children. When we educate at high standards, which is certainly very difficult, (that's why they call teaching a profession) our students will pass the tests.

Andrew Pass

5:03 PM  
Blogger The Buss said...

I'm a teacher, and I do teach a grade that is subject to the standardized tests (you know that not all grade levels are in most states). I agree with what you said about teachers and administrators "passing on" the stress for the tests, which they are accountable for (sort of), onto the students.
In my school, the principal even went as far as to bring in a motivational speaker (who ended up being pathetic) to "psych" the kids up for the test. It was pretty ridiculous, because there's no buy in from the kids.
I try not to teach with those stupid tests in the back of my mind. I know that a lot of teachers, most probably, are the same in their classrooms.
I'm disappointed that Mr. O'Reilly from Mesa Public Schools tries to imply that parents are the ones stressing out the kids. His attitude is typical of central administration in schools across the country. They sit in their office, not interacting with parents or students, blaming others when issues arise within their "brilliant" systems that they built.
I teach my students to be life-long learners. I want them to enjoy the process, and to seek out learning. That is what teaching's about, heck, it's in our professional oath. I don't relish standardized tests, I don't push my kids to make me look good, and I don't stress them out. I do tell my kids that it's part of life, and that they should approach it like everything else, with 100% of their effort. But it's ridiculous to hold everyone accountalbe to high stakes testing, it flies in the face of years upon years of valuable educational research, and anyone who disagrees with that is either an idiot or central administration (or both).

6:23 PM  
Blogger School Master P said...

Freshman English in my state has a standardized End of Course Test, and I have taught this class four years in a row. It may just be that I teach in a rural county where kids sometimes don't expect enough of themselves, but, while I've seen nerves, I've never seen anyone remotely close to getting sick. In fact, I sometimes see something quite the reverse. Because our test counts for 25% of the final average, each year I see a certain percentage of kids in that class loaf all year round, only to do very well on the test. I won't say they look forward to it, but most certainly don't seem intimidated by it. In a way it is funny, b/c they seem like 15 yr. old grizzled testing veterans.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Kilroy Was Here said...

" There's not supposed to be any real consequence for the students, and if they've attended and been taught then all they have to do is their best"

In Delaware our state test is called DSTP and it's nothing but a social whipping post brating children for the failures of adults who are responsible for their education, including parents.

8:42 PM  

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