The test

IMG_4870I am sitting in a room that silently waits for its students.

Merely by the way the desks are arranged, the world knows that it’s not going to be another normal day. Today is test day. Yup, that TEST.

With some trepidation, students will enter the classroom which has now been transformed overnight from a collaborative learning space into a scene from the ’50s. Today, the desks are in columns and rows that border on military precision with a healthy dose of compliance.

It’s go time, show what you know time because it’s standardized test time. So what’s all of the fuss about this time?

For months now something or someone somewhere has been planting seeds of anxiety in the hearts and minds of our learners. It has not come from inside of my classroom, but students are certainly arriving with it to school. As a result, it has led to some powerful conversations around mental health in education, problem solving strategies, and a debate over the logic(if any) of standardized testing. Nothing to fuss about here right?

The test has occupied the minds of some of our students it should be paying rent. Tim Urban might describe this state as a visit from the Panic Monster as he shared in his TED Talk from 2016. If we as educators didn’t put this monster into the minds of our students, then who did? Are there trolls handing out fliers off of school property? Is there a shadowy cadre of edu-data collectors directly marketing test score panic to families?

For the record, of course not. Yet, at the umpteenth time in a day I hear; “I’m nervous about EQAO”, “What if I do bad?” or ” AAAH! Evil questions attacking Ontario”, I know “the test” is having its affect on students and teachers too.

So how do we deal with the reality that this anxiety they’re feeling is real and students need our help/support to overcome it?

To combat these fears in our classroom, we have taken to increasing the physical activity level while differentiating tasks to maintain and broaden engagement. We move more. We laugh more. We work together more. Food helps too. I wrote a post about Test Crackers if you want to know more. For “the test” Samosas are on the menu in my class-veggie of course.

Instead of worrying, we have been developing our collaboration and critical thinking skills to work through challenges.  We’ve intentionally disrupted routines, not only to distract, but to shake things up. My grade 6s have been working hard for nearly 9 months. There is a lot going on at this age socially, emotionally, and  physically. They do not need to be burdened by external pressures or worry.

Since September, assurances and reassurances have been given to students so they know the marks from tests like these will not be seen by admissions committees at Harvard* or even good universities like Waterloo, MIT, and Stanford (lol). Students know that they have all of the tools necessary to succeed without obsessing over practice work booklets or past tests. I can only hope that our safe, and encouraging environment will help them if doubts start to creep in.

And so it begins, students file in, find their places, and standardized testing gets its butt kicked by samosa fueled class of critical thinking grade 6s.

* I’m sure Harvard is good too. I used it here purely for the absurd comedic value. Go Harvard!

Updated: May 27, 2016 — 12:41 pm

The Author

Will Gourley

J/I lead learner and SERT at Adrienne Clarkson PS in the YRDSB. Focused on disruptive, and divergent modern learning. Member of the global TED-Ed(Club) movement, 1 of 110 TED Ed Innovative Educators, and Global Math Project Ambassador. Twitter @willgourley Proudly blogging here and at

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