March 14, 2014


Last year, a letter came home with the third-graders informing us that children were allowed to chew sugar-free gum during the MCAS, our own special state version of the Almighty Test, in order to help the kids concentrate. This year, Zachary came home delighted to inform me that not only would they be allowed to chew gum, but they could also have mints, and the school would be providing these sugar-free temptations to our children. His delight was not so much in getting the gum and mints we don’t serve at home, but rather because he finds it amusing to watch steam come out of my ears.

You can just imagine his glee when he got to come home this Tuesday and tell me that it gets even better. “Mom, they’re giving us gum and Lifesavers this week while we practice for the test!”


“Yeah. All the fourth-grade teachers are handing out gum and Lifesavers, but only the mint ones.”

“Let me get this straight: today in school, you practiced chewing gum?”


The child, who has a perverse sense of humor, thinks it’s all hilarious. He especially gets a kick out of the fact that the school didn’t even bother to inform us they’d be handing out the sugar-substitute synthetic chemicals that I’ve spent years keeping away from my kids. He was practically cackling at dinner last night when I asked what he’d learned in school. “I learned to chew gum!”

“Is it hard?” asked Benjamin, who is in second grade and so has not yet learned this portion of the curriculum.

“Chewing it isn’t hard, but blowing bubbles is really hard. We were all trying to blow bubbles until the teachers told us if we blew bubbles they’d take the gum away.”

“Sounds like it’s really helping you focus,” I put in. Zach cackled for realz that time.

My husband is somewhat more reasonable than I am… sometimes. So, I thought he’d be calmer when Zach came bounding down the stairs as my husband was unloading the dishwasher and said, “Guess what we learned in school today,” proceeding to tell him about the gum and mints.

When Zach had left the room, I explained that the school had given out sugar-free gum and mints to help the kids concentrate while they spend their week on the critical learning activity of test preparation. The man almost dropped a stack of plates and started stuttering things like, “stuff we’ve tried to keep them away from,” “pedagogical purpose,” and “formal complaint to the district.”

I reminded him that the testing madness is not unique to our school, we love the school otherwise, and it will all be over next week. He grunted and threw the spoons into the silverware drawer.

And then this morning I got the good news. Our school has been selected (read: “drafted”) to test out the new PARCC tests! Two of the fourth grade classes get to try it! And my son’s class—lucky ducks that they are—get to spend two mornings in April taking the test! And another round at the end of the year!

Zachary is going to laugh his ass off.

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  • Reply Sarah Piazza March 14, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    Yep, same here with the gum. Never sure whether to laugh or cry.

  • Reply Magpie March 14, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    Wow. Just, wow. Steam would be coming out of my ears too.

  • Reply Susan March 16, 2014 at 1:04 am

    I went round and round with the principal of my daughter’s school last year when it piloted one of the Smarter Balanced tests. I wouldn’t let her take it, so she went to the library during the 3 practice test periods. I was so mad that they were giving up instructional time with no benefit to the school or kids.

  • Reply Susan March 16, 2014 at 1:05 am

    Hit submit too soon…another of my peeves about standardized testing is how they always remind us to make sure our kids have a good breakfast and are well rested for the testing period. Like all the other weeks, we don’t need to care about that, but suddenly, for the tests, we should.

    • Reply emily March 16, 2014 at 11:30 am

      YES! This kills me. It seems like a good breakfast is MORE important on the days they’re supposed to be learning!

  • Reply Heather March 17, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    We are living your life over here! In fairness we were given notice, and we are allowed to send in gum and hard candies with all their sugary goodness, not just the artificial kind. But kids with orthodontia? I’ve spent over $16K so far for metal in 3/4 of my children’s mouths and have followed the rules for hard candies and gum. So now my children are even more frustrated with me and I have no doubt the teachers will just hand over the “just in case someone forgets” candy and gum to my kids.
    We opted out of MCAS in 3rd grade (skipped school) for my son and then had him rush through them during make ups. Had a couple great days skipping school and he missed very little being pulled to do the make up. Doesn’t work now that he is in 7th. My 5th grader’s class is doing PARCC also. I’m curious about the randomly selected part. Would you say his teacher is one of the stronger ones in the school? I’m finding among friends that the stronger teacher’s classes seem to be selected.

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