So it’s about this time every year in schools that people start freaking out because the state tests are coming.

We freak out over scheduling, we freak out over the pencils or ipad kids will use, we freak out over what kids should wear, what they should drink and what temperature the room should be.

I’ve done all this myself, but the more and more I analyze the shenanigans around test prep, I’ve come to realize that all of this really doesn’t work.  And it certainly doesn’t help.

Let me put it in perspective…

I am a really bad tennis player.  (But I love it)

I take tennis lessons with my buddy Erin and we sometimes even play without a chaperone on Friday nights – ha!

I have a new racquet.  I have legit tennis shoes.  I have taken the lessons.  I have watched the tennis matches of people much better than me.

But I still, um, having ISSUES as it relates to tennis.

Imagine if our tennis coach, Joey, emailed me at the beginning of the week (our lessons are Sundays) and said, “Jill, every single day I’m going to send you inspirational quotes followed by a bottle of Smart water delivered to your doorstep.  I’m also going to buy you a new racquet…but THIS time it’s going to be monogrammed with your name on it.  Then on Thursday, I’m going to have you take the day off from work and spend the day getting your nails done and resting and just having some free time to yourself.  I’m going to send you some audio clips of inspirational quotes and speeches that I want you to listen to while you sleep.  Then you’ll be a better tennis player.”

Does that make sense?

Here’s the deal with the tennis scenario I described: it doesn’t deal directly or intensively with the fact that I don’t have tennis skill.  (That is the understatement of the year, in this case!)

I find that schools do the same thing in light of high-stakes testing:

  • Change the schedule
  • Change the materials
  • Change the intensity of instruction (typically there’s less teaching in times of testing or radically increased times cramming)
  • Change the rules/procedures
  • Change the homework (typically to none)
  • Change the attitudes to over-the-top cheerlead-y (if that’s a word)

What does this do for kids?

It tells them that something different is going on.  It tells them that they should act differently or do something that’s left or right of their norm.

It puts them on high notice.

The thing is, testing is NOT A BIG DEAL when kids have skills.  The tests are a breeze for kids who know how to do the things that the tests are asking them to do.

All of the testing parties, the testing hats, the testing water bottles, the testing cheer-leading assemblies – ALL OF IT is just FLUFF.  Yep F-L-U-F-F in the face of a kid who lacks skill.

Skill is built through habitual, unending, super-focused practice across a LONG PERIOD OF TIME.  Skilled kids are skilled because they have practiced a skill and maintained it for weeks, months and probably years.  Mastery is not quick, it’s not automatic and it’s not easy.  It’s monotonous, it’s rehearsed, it’s planned-for, it’s sometimes boring BUT it works.

In the case of my tennis game (it’s a joke that I even call it that, but indulge me for a second!), the ONLY thing that is going to help me to be a better player is this: P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E and T-I-M-E.


The same is true for kids.  While the bells and whistles are fine, they do not cover for a lack of skill.  I like to say that no testing party helped me to understand what a ______________________ is.  It’s really true!

(Stay tuned for Part 2 next blog…)