Test Anxiety

(Excerpt from Keeping Score, the precursor story to Capturing Captain America)

Census takers, even the most aggressive ones, don’t get to account for 100 percent of the nut cases in the Mission district. Kaja never bothered counting the number of derelicts on Mission street when she walked to work. Her loft in Potrero Hill on Connecticut Street was only a short distance from the High School she worked at but a world away demographically. The Mission had its share of hustlers, crazies, junkies, and punks. They were always in high numbers and never lost on antics. Kaja choose to walk to work this morning rather than take her motorcycle since today was a school board meeting. She knew something was bad, really bad, about the results because the last time the district superintendent called a meeting it was over combined SAT scores under 400. Kaja had an explanation for that outcome then. Her students were still grasping to learn English and weren’t prepared for a standardized test assuming they were native speakers. This time Kaja had implemented a series of test prep groups in advanced for the California state proficiency exam. For several weeks the student were subjected to test strategies, practices times quizzes, and extra homework based on past exams. Kaja used the peer tutors of the best students to mentor those who had been identified as low scorers. Kaja even had the district approve fundraisers so that the students could have healthy breakfast, lunches, and after school meals to aid in their cognitive functioning. In her mind she had gone all out, covered all the right bases, accounted for the weak links, but still, the numbers must have showed had badly the kids bombed on the state tests. What could she have not counted on?

Kaja had encountered learning challenges before when she had been an Oakland Teaching Fellow for two years after college. She was teaching math to middle school children who were terrified of numbers. When she discovered how much her classroom loved football and soccer Kaja used that interest to get them to see math as fun. Her students were always betting their marbles on which team would win so Kaja had them bring in players cards to demonstrate how the stats were calculated by the NFL. By the end of the term Kaja’s students were loving how to count the number of scores in a playoff and use that to pick which player should get a bonus at the end of a season. Thank God for Saint Reggie Bush back then. He was the classroom’s favorite player. Who did she miss now? Should she have used the sports analogy before the state exam? Her students loved soccer and the World Cup would have been an ideal metaphor for them to practice probability, ratios, statistics, and factions but not geometry, calculus, or trigonometry.


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