Below Basic

By: Noa Rosinplotz
Sixth Place Winner, 2013
Oyster Adams Bilingual School
Teacher: Mr. Paul Gerber

It’s the middle of August, and I lie with my back to the air conditioner as I sort through the mail. Ben and Julia’s wedding, notice of renewal for New York Magazine, Verizon Wireless bill, MasterCard bill. A thin white envelope at the bottom, To the Parents of Rosinplotz, Noa catches my eye. I ignore the intended recipients and instead tear out the two stapled pieces of paper within. At the top it has my name, DC CAS SY 2011-2012 STUDENT REPORT, student ID, and a checkmark under the word “Advanced.” Little numbers dance across the page, a dizzying maze of Times New Roman directing my eyes back to the large green checkmark. I stuff the papers back in the envelope and toss it on the kitchen table.

Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, Advanced. Those are our names, who we are, and what we’re meant for. One hundred and eighty days in the classroom, eleven and a half years of breathing, and one green checkmark is our reward-or our comeuppance. The District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System is our jury, the checkmark is the verdict. The evidence is a six-day multiple-choice test.

The DC CAS captures the ability to multiply, calculate area and perimeter, find the main idea, identify the author’s purpose. The choice of books thrown haphazardly in a backpack, the treasure chest of memories hidden in the temporal lobe, the stolen smiles directed at friends across the classroom, those haven’t yet been captured on a graph. Multiple-choice bubbles interpret the testing side of us, not the people side. Standardized tests are creating a class system, based not on economics or race, but on the choice between A, B, C, or D, and the placement of the green checkmark on our score report.

The DC CAS makes decisions about our future, that of our school, and that of our teachers, by pegging us as proficient or below proficient. The standardized test industry manages to make individuals into test scores, giving us denominations which make us easier to interpret. We are students, we are humans, we are not than data points on a chart. A rainy day is not hidden in those bubbles. Family troubles don’t reveal themselves through the marks left by a number two pencil. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder cannot show itself via a structured written response. Humor, kindness, and compassion have no outlet on an answer sheet. We are people who will appear on this earth once, and only once, and we can never be replicated, ever. We are not only different from test scores, we are so much more.

But the checkmark doesn’t care.