There is such a thing as an ERB test. Don’t ask me what those letters stand for, but they are the standardized aptitude test currently used in the school where I work. I, personally, just love to call them the “erb” tests. As in “herb.” As in parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. As in Peaches and ____. I most definitely digress. At the lunch table I asked the kids, ages ranging from grade 3 to 5, how the morning’s tests went. One third grader who is famous for the bows which always sit perfectly atop her cute little head, said “This is going to be the longest week of my liiiiife.” A fourth grade ragamuffin who likes to call himself “Heinz Cowguts” (which I think is quietly brilliant) said “Oh that stuff’s so eeeeeasy for me! I finished so fast!” I assured Monsieur Cowguts that there were many fellow students for whom this test wasn’t “so eeeeeeasy” and that he might want to use a bit more tact at the lunch table, and that the correct grammar usage would actually be “I finished so quickly.” And then there are the mature, erb-savvy fifth graders for whom this test is old hat and something they merely endure.
There are also certain students who require a bit more time and TLC during this testing and, at times, the supply of teachers for proctoring purposes runs low. I gladly accepted the call for reinforcements last week and this morning I went and picked up a couple of third grade girls. One exception: I refuse to be called a “proctor.” Sounds too clinical and a little creepy. They had their razor-sharp No. 2 pencils, their “good luck” notes from their moms, their bright eyes and bushy tails, and their thinking caps were pulled on, straight and tight. In addition, they had bags of candy and were allowed to choose a piece for each break between tests. Uh, where were these bags of candy when I was in third grade? In my recollection, all we got was a sip of water and the satisfaction of knowing we hadn’t yet fainted from the pressure and fallen to the cold linoleum below.
After reading the instructions silently over and over again — I think I was as nervous as they were — I finally said those fated words “You may now open your booklets. Begin.” Three sections of the test were to be given today and one of the students, naturally, worked more quickly than the other. I don’t have to tell you how this affected the slower of the two, and you can well imagine the feeling of panic that crept up in her poor, frustrated little mind and body. Test-taker #1 was almost finished with section #2 while test-taker #2 was still in the throes of section #2. Confused? Yes, so was I. Moving on, test-taker #1 moved on to section #3, after her piece of candy, of course (an Andes mint, I think it was). Soon enough, test-taker #2 looked up at me, her sweet, big brown eyes brimming with salty tears and said “Miss Coates my stomach hurts.” And the poor girl broke down. She sobbed but tried with all her might to pull it together. I excused her to the restroom and told her to take some deep breaths and drink plenty of water. What do we need as humans? Air. We need air. And we need water. Everything else is fluff. Except, of course, for the blue raspberry Jolly Rancher I allowed her to enjoy, even though it wasn’t an official “break.” I’m not a big proponent of “official,” if you hadn’t already guessed.
After completing section #2, and after test-taker #1 was long gone, test-taker #2 had breakdown #2. I stood up and got her out of her chair and put my arms around her and held her while she cried. Heart-breaking. The pressure this child felt was too much for her to bear. I didn’t handle it all too well either, my poor, poor proctoring self. I asked her if she was overwhelmed and really frustrated and tired of reading all of those millions of words. “Yes ((sniff))” she replied through her tears. I wasn’t going to subject her to any more of the bubble-filling nonsense and I made an executive decision to call it a day. After we both pulled it together and shared a last piece of candy (Lemonheads), I walked her back to her classroom.
While walking down that long hallway which must have felt like both freedom and imprisonment to her, I said “You know, as differently as we all learn, we take tests differently too. If you had a different kind of test, say someone put a piece of blank paper and crayons in front of you and said ‘Here is your test: draw a pretty girl with a rainbow above her. You may now begin…’ you’d pass that test with honors!” She offered a weary smile.
When I saw her at lunch I didn’t say anything but was moved to walk up behind her and squeeze her tightly. Later, her class came to Art and she slid a piece of paper into my hand and hugged my waist. As the chatter rose in volume and the kids got their paintbrushes moving, I took a moment and unfolded her gift. There stood a pretty girl with a rainbow drawn above her. Just beneath the rainbow, in careful print, it read “Thank You [Mrs.] (oops) Coates.”