One of the tasks we oversee in my school is administering the PSAT. I have to proctor it to my homeroom kids, the majority of whom I don’t teach. Instead, we see each other daily for about 20 minutes of awkwardness: I tell them all the things the school says they need to know (upcoming events, educational tidbits, which of late concern the election, distribute lunch detentions that the deans give me to pass along to particular students). They half-listen, some annoyed, others amused at my seeming ineptitude for idle chatter and paperwork. It’s funny, too, because they all know each other from the year before and have existing relationships. I’m the new kid to that homeroom party. For the most part, though, we get through it, and are finding our balance.
This is the group that I was responsible for for the PSAT. Every sophomore at this school takes the test, whether they want to or not. Whether they have any idea what the purpose is the test is for, or not.
What I realized–during that period where you tell kids to write their address, fill in bubbles, sign their name–is that there are particular bubbles on the form that stand to either advantage or disadvantage kids of color. One bubble asks for them to identify their race. Another asks if they want to be identified for awards based on their race, while a third asked for their email address if they wanted to be contacted by colleges (and the latter is not just about kids of color). When I was walking around, making sure kids were filling out their forms correctly, I noticed a number of kids of color (not just Black kids), not filling out those questions.
I asked one of them why and she shrugged, said she didn’t want to.
Warm demander alert!
I suggested she fill out ALL of those forms. Why count yourself out before the game even starts?! Rinse and repeat same suggestion for the other handful of kids who were uncertain about filling out those questions.
As they proceeded to take the test and I proceeded to proctor, of course I began to think about whether other kids around the school had folks who checked to see if those boxes were filled out. Look, I love young folks, but when left to their own devices, they’re gonna skip things, but when they’re skipping measures on standardized tests that might actually benefit them in the long run (and I’ll loosely define benefit for these purposes), I worry.
So many measures are uneven and biased that if they can get some small foothold that positively influences their future, we have to make sure they’re taking it. Even if they don’t want to fill in the bubble.
We gotta pay attention. All the time.