Ms. Rumphius on the Torture of Untimed Testing

In January, as New York’s State Education Department grappled with the burgeoning wrath of parents, commissioner MaryEllen Elia announced that several “major changes” were afoot for the high-stakes assessment regime. Among them was untimed testing.


Conceding the stress—on young children in particular—Elia offered her solution: “If they are working productively,” she noted, “then they will be able to continue the assessment.”

She was decidedly not making the world more beautiful, the life’s work of Miss Rumphius, the eponymous heroine of Barbara Cooney’s beloved book, first published by Viking in 1982.  I read it often to my daughter, and it was the first gift to my granddaughter. Alice Rumphius longed to travel the world and return to live by the sea. An early feminist, with a wandering streak.  In her old age, ensconced in her dream house, she scattered the seeds of lupines hither and yon, her legacy fulfilled.

She is also, however, the alter-ego of an elementary school teacher in New York City, who’s updated “Miss” to “Ms.” This descendant of Alice Rumphius blogs at pedagogyofthereformed, under the tag line, “Teaching in Brooklyn in Spite of Everything.”  A brave soul, given the chilly climate these days for critique in the Big Apple.

Ms. Rumphius is also partial to the philosophy of the Brazilian educator, Paolo Freire, another hero of those who seek to transform the world. Here’s a quote from his celebrated work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which is pinned to the blog:

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

Now on to some choice observations of a nine-year-old former student by the brave blogger, herself:

This afternoon I saw one of my former students still working on her ELA test at 2:45 pm. Her face was pained and she looked exhausted. She had worked on her test until dismissal for the first two days of testing as well. 18 hours. She’s 9…

This is a student who is far above grade level in reading, writing and every measurable area imaginable. She definitely got a 3 or 4 on this test. She is a hard worker and powers through challenges with quiet strength and determination. She is not “coddled.” She is sweet, brilliant and creative and as far as I know she has always loved school…

After 18 hours of testing over 3 days, she emerged from the classroom in a daze. I asked her if she was ok, and offered her a hug. She actually fell into my arms and burst into tears. I tried to cheer her up but my heart was breaking. She asked if she could read for a while in my room to calm down and then cried into her book for the next 15 minutes…

Children should be challenged. But challenges should be meaningful, differentiated and developmentally appropriate. No matter how many superficial concessions the state makes, this is not meaningful, not differentiated and certainly not appropriate for young children.

Ms. Rumphius concludes with a succinct observation and recommendation. “This is torture,” she opines.  “Opt out.”

I’m in.



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