Testing, Testing


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.

dscf2724When 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.”


  1. Stacy Grubb

    Very touching and thoughtful acts from the both of you. I *was* that little girl many…uh, many years ago. I’m still typically the last to finish anything from chores to dinner. Somehow, life goes on, anyway, even if at a pace slower than the average bear’s.


  2. Mike

    Evie, I’m an 8th grade History teacher, Georgia History to be exact. I completely understand the stress of testing on both teachers and the students. I am saddened that we now assess children as if placing some sort of value on them. We constantly talk of kids who will help or hurt our scores. This value system places us all in danger of thinking that this is how the Universe must work; how God must work. If not for the cloud bursts of grace we would all have aching stomachs. Thanks for the reminder that we all need grace to make it and that grace can come in the form of a blue raspberry jolly rancher. I had an 8th grader who was sick every day. She got star mints. I hope she passes.

  3. Ron Block



    I’m all for learning, of course. But I’ve got to say that school – mainly middle and high school – did very little for me. Here was a kid who wanted to play and practice music 24/7, wanted to do it for a living, and much of high school just got in the way of that. I did my time, of course, and got decent grades, but I did manage to get a D in biology one year because I was reading the Earl Scruggs banjo book (any high schoolers reading this, don’t try this at school; it’s too dangerous to the grade point average).

    There’s a real value in finding a child’s interests and aptitudes (quite often they conveniently coincide), and then fostering those skills. Of course children need to learn reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, but I had some useless knowledge shoved at me in high school for really no reason other than no one took the time to find out which direction I was heading.

    Mike, this world is permeated with a performance-based consciousness; “Perform well, and I will accept you.” That runs totally counter to God’s way, which is “I accept you; now live from that acceptance and you will perform well.”

  4. becky


    I am glad there are teachers like you who care so much about the hearts of children. My sister is one of those teachers. The first year she taught fifth grade she surveyed the students before testing day to find out what was causing them the most anxiety. Their two biggest worries were whether or not there would be recess, and “What if I get hungry?” I don’t remember what she did about the recess issue, but I know she put a paper cup on each desk and kept it full of snacks so they could nibble while they worked. She talked with them about what to expect on the day of the test, and let them know that she believed they were going to do very well. There was a significant increase in their scores that year, largely because she took the time to deal with their fears and prepare them, emotionally, for the test.

    The amount of pressure on children, teachers, and administrators to do well on achievement tests is enormous. My sister taught for 16 years in Texas, where these tests are VERY serious business. Those students who did not pass the tests as juniors did not graduate. So many who did poorly on the tests in middle school would drop out as soon as they could legally do so. They saw no point in continuing in school if there was no hope of a diploma at the end of the road. A teacher’s continued employment, school funding, and principal bonuses all depended on test scores. One year my sister’s principal received a $10,000 bonus for increased test scores in the building. (The teachers received nothing.) With so much at stake, everyone feels the pressure to perform well. The irony is that this pressure creates anxiety in the students, which leads to lower test scores. We obviously need to have some way of determining how well schools are doing their job. And my sister uses the test scores to learn where her kids are struggling, and what areas she needs to spend more time on or approach differently. So there are good reasons to have them. But somehow we need to have a system that does not create so much fear.

  5. Christy Robb

    Thanks for the sweet post. My 4th graders are “herb” testing right now, and besides candy, Andy P’s, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, is what makes everything ok at the end of the day. Reading a few chapters after that third ERB test is like balm to their little souls. When we finished our last chapter for the day I shared that Mr. Andy has a new book coming out in the summer, but I could not remember the name. As I hopped on to the rabbit room to search for the name, the pencil and bubble test caught my eye, as I have seen so many bubbles this week. I quickly scanned your post, and then gathered the kids around to read it to them. They loved it. You mentioned so many things they are experiencing right now. What is the deal with blue jolly ranchers anyway??? The kids flip over them, and I cannot figure it out. Anyway, the kids grew somber as I began to read about sweet student #2. So many of them relate, and I believe that they too would pass with honors if I were to throw their karate uniform, fishing pole, or a script, in front of them and tell them that it was their test. I have one girl, very similar to #2, who I had to hold on Monday morning as she arrived with tears and trembling over the test. All I could do was assure her that these tests do not measure her worth, and she is far more that what her score may be. My kids loved that she drew you that picture, and I just cried. Thanks for this Evie 🙂
    Ron, thank you too for the admonishment of how to live in light of God’s grace. Amen and amen.

    Christy Robb

  6. Christy Robb

    I did fail to add that i am no test hater 🙂 i see its value, and i’m thankful to be at a school where we don’t over pressure the kids over the “herbs.” I’m gathering that this is quite unique.

  7. Aaron Roughton


    I relayed the wonderful story in this post to my wife on my lunch break while we strolled the gargantuan aisles at Costco. We both choked up with tears as I got to the end. I could barely finish the story. Thanks so much for sharing it.

    My Costco membership was revoked on account of me being a crybaby. But it was worth it.

  8. ginger

    You just made me cry. A picture is worth a million words, in this case. Good job, Ms. Coates. That child will not soon forget you or your kindness.

  9. Cindy Kasten

    Thank you for this. I’m all warm inside. My older son is test-taker #1. He’s good at all he does, by the world’s standards. Younger son is test-taker #2. He has his own learning style that the world doesn’t hold up as an example. But, many of us see all the good and his super ways. Thank you again.

  10. davidp

    I immediately forwarded this to my wife who is an elementary guidance counselor…so she’s responsible for administering these types of standardized tests. Ironically, at the same time she counsels alot of kids like test-taker #2 through these types of experiences. We loved the story & loved your attitude & caring even more!

  11. Russ Ramsey


    Evie, this was wonderful to read. Thanks so much for taking the time to write it all down for us. High marks, friend. High marks.

  12. Angela P

    I was reading this in a coffee shop, and as I finished it, a guy next to me asked me a question. I turned to answer and had tears in my eyes. I think he thought he somehow procured the tears. I think he felt badly. All to say…I knew there was a reason you were called to this place for these kids.
    As I search for a job, I feel a tightness in my sternum. I can’t help but think that student #2 probably felt that too. That striving for approval never seems to let go completely. But, I know now how to breathe and drink water and lay it down.

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