Does anyone else vividly remember the tests that came down from Albany when we were in junior high and high school and they came down like a great proclamation. They were standardized tests that would spell out our future….
I remember being in high school when on a dreary, rainy day some outside agency handed over a batch of mimeographed standardized tests, the kind whre you fill in the circle with pencil and hand it in after the pre-determined period of time. The test was a series of questions designed to tell us what industry we would be best suited to; in short, what our temperament was. .I remember thinking at the time, even before I knew the results, that this was pre-determinism; Calvinism. That if anything it could only lessen our options and not broaden our horizons for there would be those of us who would feel pigeonholed. And that’s what it was – a way of pigeonholing the student-body. Why this test was administered and what purpose, if any, it served I cannot say. I do know that back in England I never had such tests and it seemed to me then as a child that the world was boundless and I was a bounder. But this, this made me curiously afraid, fearful and I dreaded the results.
I was right to. Despite my high IQ scores and previous tests and high marks (for most of high school I was a high-honors student receiving A and A+s’, practically having a breakdown when I received anything less than an A.
The test was marked “Albany” in the upper-right hand corner in 6 or 7 point type, barely legible, but I remember noting it came from there and I began to daydream, imagining what Albany was like and not being American or familiar with American cities, my imagination ran wild. I pictured a green and rolling countryside thick with pine trees and in the midst of all this an old building with a giant boardroom and a shiny oak table where a panel of old fuddy-duddies assembled thinking of dotted tests that would best torture the nation’s student body.
That’s what they did in Albany I thought. The women all wore cat-eye glasses on chains and dressed like 50s librarians, or my idea of a 1950s librarian – pencil-skirted and boiled wool jackets and grey hair bobbed or pinned hair worn with headbands and old men who smoked cigars and sat around thinking absurd questions about speeding trains and running people like, If Train A is traveling South at 60 m.p.h. and student Sarah Ranson is running North at 7 m.p.h. how long will it take before the two have a head on collision?
After the test, we all met with a counselor who would tell us our result and interpret the result for us. We couldn’t do that for ourselves and I wondered why. Why couldn’t I be as good a judge of my future as someone who hardly knew me? After all, I was still relatively new to America, not a student the school system had seen through since kindergarten. I was Other, a foreigner, just as I had been and would be all of my life. Just as I am now and in so many ways.
I do not remember now if it was a man or woman who told me my results, only that I was told I would be best suited to “the arts” – a vague and hazy answer which I took to mean I was stupid, not cut out to be a doctor or a lawyer. The counselor then went on to say that I would work “well with my hands,” that I was “creative.”
So there it was. It was mumbo jumbo.
I left the office dazed and wandered the halls for a bit and listened as my friends rejoiced at their future doctor and lawyer-dom. The shop and technical kids all seemed content with their results; no big surprises for them but for me, I wondered what had gone wrong. Nobody else in my group of friends was told they would be “an artist” or would “work with their hands” or be a “creative.” No; they were all doctors and scientists and the future great brains of America while I was, I felt, relegated to the lowest rung of all.
Later that day, I was so angry, so out of control, so sick of the self-congratulatory mood of the school and of my own darkness that in the middle of a class I began kicking and screaming before I ran out and destroyed almost an entire row of lockers.
Who wants to be an artist, I thought. It was the end of me as I knew it. The proclamation had come down from Albany and my fate was sealed.
I recently saw an old teacher and asked about this and other matters. He said to me, with a straight face, “We don’t put much stock in standardized tests…”
How ironic; how blessed and how rich we have been.
thanks for listening,