Dear BHHS students,
I am writing in response to David McDaniels’ opinion piece, “Scoring a 1520 in Stress” published on November 4, 2017. I want to be clear that this letter is in no way a personal attack on David—I teach him and know him to be a good person and excellent student. I am in fact impressed with how well written his column is. I am writing because I believe the points David made are points that many students, especially juniors, would agree with, and that worries me. I recently read an article that argues we (parents, teachers, the system) have raised the current generation of students in such a way that we have “prepared the path for you and not prepared you for the path.” I am concerned that if we and you don’t change the way we look at school and challenges, you are going to suffer greatly once you are out of high school.
Let me start by saying that I agree that we overtest. I think many state and standardized tests are ridiculous and there are far more effective ways to assess students. However, that does not in and of itself mean every test warrants you to stress about it. David talks about the fact that many of you were anxious because when you sat down for the PSAT, it was the first time you had ever seen a test like this. First of all, guidance handed out packets about the PSAT with sample questions and a website to go to, so had you really been interested in preparing for this exam, you could have. But more importantly, this complaint makes it sound like going into an unknown situation and feeling anxious should never be allowed. How are you going to cope outside of BHHS? Sometimes we have to face “nerve-wracking” situations in life: you are going to have job interviews in which you have to answer questions that you don’t know are coming; you will have clients who will need something you never expected; you will someday have people you manage who will have demands you never expected. The list is endless. If each of these situations and the countless others that I can’t even predict will cause you paralyzing anxiety, then you will be miserable and unable to act. If you can take the adrenaline that is created in a stressful and anxiety-inducing situation and turn it to your advantage, you can excel. We can’t necessarily make the anxiety go away, but we can change how we perceive it and use it.
I am also concerned that you have convinced yourselves that every test is high stakes. If you do terribly on the PSAT, you are in no worse position than you were before the test. You have nothing to lose by taking this test; no matter what your score is, your GPA is unaffected, it doesn’t go on a transcript, and it doesn’t get reported to colleges. If you think this is a high-stakes test, then no wonder you stress about every little quiz. In response to a failing grade on a reading quiz, I have heard comments like, “I am never getting into college.” Yes, you are! The whole point of low-stakes testing (or quizzing) is that you can learn from it. If you didn’t do well, you know you need to change your approach to do better, so that when the high-stakes test comes along you are prepared. Again, how you proceed after receiving a given grade is what is important: will you curl up in a ball and quit, or will you figure out how to face the next challenge in an effective manner? It was only a few years ago that BHHS started administering the PSAT on a Wednesday morning. Before that, almost the entire junior class would give up a Saturday morning for this test. Now, you come to school as normal. You haven’t even lost time; if you weren’t taking the PSAT, you would be in class. The PSAT and many other tests in your life are low stakes. If you can’t tell the difference, we have again failed you—determining what is most important, being able to prioritize, and stressing when (and only when) stress is warranted are life skills.
Tests will come and go. Assignments will come and go. The courses you take will begin and end. How you face the challenges of assessments and unknown situations, both in and out of school, is what you will take with you to college and beyond. I hope we can all work together to shift your mindsets so you know you can handle a bump in the path and not be thrown off course when it can’t be removed for you.