Making the grade

May 04,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

In the walk-up line outside of L.'s school yesterday I heard one frazzled parent tell a friend, "I hardly slept a wink last night I was so worried about the EOG's." Another parent said: "We've implemented EOG boot camp all month--I think we're in good shape." My stomach did a little lurch, because I had slept okay, actually. I've stayed up many, many nights worrying about my kids, but I can't say I plan on losing any sleep over end-of-grade testing. But then, as I listened to the chatting back and forth about the tests this week, self-doubts began to creep in. Parenting is like that: you go with your gut, and then you second-guess it all. To be honest, I haven't been too stressed out about end-of-grade tests this year, and not being stressed about it is starting to make me feel stressed. Last year's EOG experience was far from ideal, for many reasons. But we survived it somehow and, looking back, I think we spent too much time worrying--especially given that there was little we could do to change the outcome. I spent too much time in gloom-and-doom mode, measuring up my son's performance to that of others, and feeling sad and frustrated about what might happen the next school year. Yet even though I think we have a healthier approach to it all this year, the second-guessing still creeps in. Should I be more worried this year? Should we have done more to help L. prepare? Why didn't we hire a tutor? Enroll him in EOG Boot Camp, as some parents have done? Truthfully, none of that seemed fair, desirable, or possible. Even if L. was a child who was deeply motivated to study and do well on this type of test, what would the point be in having him live, breathe, eat, and sleep EOG test prep--even if we could? He's only nine, and it just doesn't seem right to impose that level of stress and test-taking-anxiety onto someone so young, when there are years and years ahead of test-taking to come. There are some stressed parents out there, I know, and maybe I'll be there, too, as the week goes on. Three pieces of advice saw us through the process last year, and will, hopefully, help us get through it all this year: Make EOG week fun. Pamper yourself, pamper your kids. Give your child little prizes and small treats each day to keep him going. We plan on bringing a small treat to L. each day this week. Yesterday it was a pastry from Starbucks, and a can of fruit juice soda (sparkling drinks are usually only for special occasions around here!). Make the day special, and it will become a more positive experience for both you and your child. Don't dwell on your child's shortcomings or challenges. It's hard to put a positive spin on failures, but if your child ends up not scoring as well as you wanted her to or if she ends up having to retest, look at it as another chance to learn more, do better, and be proud of all that has been accomplished so far. A test is just a test in the end, not a defining moment in anyone's life. Take yourself out of the competition. I know I'm generalizing, but it seems to me that what's at stake in a lot of the end-of-grade testing has to do with how parents feel their child does compared to others. I even hear children echoing these same concerns, and all this gives the testing process an air of competition that doesn't need to be there. There is no "winning" and "losing" in end-of-grade testing; you have to always look at your child's performance on tests like that always with their individual abilities in mind--then, as you would when cooking, add a dash of this and that to the mix (the test conditions, the other kids in the room, their mental/physical health) and go from there. I learned this years ago, as all parents do when their child learns differently from others. Your child has his own set of individual strengths and talents, his own way of learning, and his own way of demonstrating all that he knows (and it is a lot). Block your ears in that walk-up line, or at the playground, and don't let your own gut feelings and pride in your child be swayed by other parents. And, to echo L.'s advice from yesterday--it will all be over soon--Saturday will soon be here. And, when it is, and all the tests are over and done with, what will remain is your child, in all his wonderful, individual, brilliant, beautiful, breath-taking uniqueness. No test, no score, no school, no other person can take anything away from this fact. Just let them try.