What happens to a young student who fails a mandated standardized test that decides whether he/she can move to the next grade, or to an older student who fails a test that determines if he/she graduates?  Here is a 20-step description of what happened to a boy named George. It was written by educator Kathleen Jasper, founder of ConversationED, a website that offers a platform for conversations about education and courses for schools, districts and companies on action research, leadership and technology. This appeared on the Web site’s blog.

By Kathleen Jasper

A lot of people don’t understand what really happens when a student fails the state test at a young age. The fact that these tests and these tests alone determine the worth of our students, I thought it appropriate to walk through the academic lifecycle of a student who is labeled “non-proficient”.

Meet George, a normal kid who has a difficult time passing reading tests.

1. George is in second grade. He isn’t high-flying or gifted, but he is a solid C student and he enjoys school. He likes 2nd grade and according to his teacher, he is moving along at a normal academic pace.

2. Fast forward one year and George is in 3rd grade. He knows a reading test is coming that will determine if he moves on to 4th grade. He is very aware he may fail this test and be “held back”. All of his classmates know it too and they speculate who will go on and who will fail the test. George is stressed out about it and has a hard time sleeping at night.

3. Turns out, George does NOT meet the proficient reading score required on the third grade high-stakes test and he is retained in third grade, while his class, the one he has been with for three years, moves on without him.

4. George begins to hate school and acts out. His bad behavior is a manifestation of his fear and inadequacy.

5. George is put in remedial reading and instead of going to what they call “specials” (outside activities like PE and Art), he sits with a reading coach hammering out fluency drills and vocabulary exercises. He is engaged in test prep most of his time in school. He is not allowed to chose books he likes, he is required to read what the district mandates him to read based on his fluency scores. He understandably begins to hate reading.

6. George continues to struggle with the state test and he is continuously put in remedial classes. He reads from a book he knows is lower than the regular book and he begins to say things like, ‘I’m a bad reader,’ ‘ I’m not smart,’  and ‘I hate school.’ These statements become self-fulfilling prophecies.

7. George’s behavior gets worse – he becomes the class clown because he would rather be “bad” than “stupid”.

8. Because of his disruptive behavior, George is continuously isolated through the end of elementary and into middle school. He spends most of his time in the “in-school suspension” room.

9. George continues to fail the state test.

10. Fast forward and George is now in high school and he knows the 10th grade test is the one that determines whether or not he graduates. He is acutely aware of his limitations regarding tests and knows he will most likely fail.

11. But George has a job he loves as a restaurant cook. He is thriving in his position and the GM is even thinking about making him a manager. All George needs is a standard diploma for a management position in the company.

12. George also reads many publications he enjoys about cars and music. In fact, he reads all the time.

13. George now in 11th grade asks the school’s administration for permission to get out of intensive reading classes so he can enjoy some electives and other things he is interested in. Administration refuses his requests. He must, according to the state, stay in intensive reading classes until he passes the test.

14. George never leaves intensive reading classes.

15. George retakes the reading test now three times a year and still cannot pass.

16. George’s disruptive behavior has subsided but he has started skipping his intensive reading classes. The assistant principal finds him in the stairwell reading Rolling Stone.

17. George continues to be isolated in the ISS room for skipping class.

18. Meanwhile, George, over the last four years of high school, has passed all of his classes. Still a solid C student, he has done all of the work and has earned enough credits to graduate high school. He is hoping for his diploma so he can become a manager at his restaurant job.

19. However, George doesn’t pass the state test for the final time. He misses it by three points and when it comes time to walk the stage in two weeks he will receive a certificate of completion, NOT a standard diploma.

20. The night of graduation, George decides not to go. He isn’t interested in walking the stage at graduation only to receive a piece of paper that reinforces his inability to pass the test.

This is not an exaggeration. This is an actual story of a student I know well. And his story parallels many other students’ stories in our current public school system. In fact I received a list of 10 students in one high school who were three points or less away from passing but still had enough credits to graduate. None of them received a “standard” diploma on graduation night.

But what do we do about it? Absolutely Nothing. All the while, the legislators pushing these laws on public schools get financial kickbacks from the companies making the test and making the intensive reading curriculum.

Many legislators pushing high-stakes testing send their kids to private schools.

Oppression comes in all shapes and sizes. In American public schools it comes in the form of high-stakes tests.