Third-grader Parker Walsh’s vision for the world does not include testing.
For a homework assignment last week, Walsh, a third-grader at Northwestern Elementary School, had to fill out a sheet asking him to consider his dream for the world in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
His dream, he wrote, is to have a world free of ISTEP, the controversial, state-wide standardized test first given to students in third grade.
Each year, the test draws frustrated responses from educators around the state, who argue the test is not an accurate measure of student success or a teacher’s ability to teach.
Walsh first heard about the test last year as a second-grader when he witnessed older students worrying about it.
“[ISTEP] is so much work,” he said. “It just infuriates everybody ... it’s just a test that nobody likes.”
Initially, Walsh considered saying his dream would be to see a world without pollution. Bethany Livengood, his teacher, said it’s a standard answer, right next to a bully-free world and a world without littering. Walsh’s answer, she said, took her by surprise.
“I was really surprised because it would be one thing if I was talking negatively about the test or if I had warned them about the test or said, ‘Watch out, ISTEP is coming and we all hate it.’ But I literally have not said a word about it.”
She has heard some students’ concerns about the test, she said, though mostly from those with older siblings who have already taken it. One student was so anxious about the upcoming test she asked if she could purchase a study guide for it.
“I can already tell there’s some anxiety, which is so sad,” Livengood said. “They’re 8 and 9 years old. The fact you see that is kind of heartbreaking.”
But she said she and her fellow teachers try not to freak the students out, and they try to prepare them as best as they can for the test.
“Just know your teachers are going to prepare you,” Livengood said. “All we want you to do is your best.”
After turning in the assignment, Walsh’s principal, Ron Owings, tweeted a picture of it, and Walsh said the attention it received was surreal.
“I was thinking ‘this is all a dream,’” he said. “I was like ‘what’s going on?’ It was one of the best days of my life.”
In a way, Walsh will see his dream come true next school year, as the state ditches ISTEP and replaces it with a new test, ILEARN. The new test will be a computer-adaptive test, meaning it will individualize the test based on students’ answers, creating a unique test for each student. ILEARN will be delivered online and will test math, English and language arts, science and social studies.
But while the test may change, at the end of the day it’s still a test, and Walsh said he’s generally not a fan.
“I just don’t like tests,” he said.