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High-Stakes Testing

by James Rumpel

Part 1 appears in this issue.


Michael was extremely grateful that James, an older teacher had agreed to meet with him. The official role of mentor was only a one-year assignment, and James had already fulfilled that requirement. Luckily for Michael, the mentor was a good man and a good friend.

“You’re getting yourself way too worked up, Michael,” advised James. “The placement bureau recommended that you become an educator because you have the skills and qualities to succeed. You are good at what you do.”

“I know the bureau helps people pick the right occupation, and I really want to teach. I love learning, and want to pass that on. I like the kids. It is so rewarding to help them, but I’m failing them.”

James took a deep breath before replying to Michael’s frustrated rant. “You are not failing them. They are the ones who have to pass the test. They control their own destiny.”

“But I can’t seem to get this group to understand the importance. To them, it’s just a test. How do I get them to commit to doing their absolute best when I can’t tell them the consequences of failure?”

“You are pushing them to do their best. You are doing it by example. Kids know when a teacher really cares for them. They see how hard you are working to help them.”

James continued: “Every occupation is difficult. Every occupation has its risks of failure. I can honestly say that I believe teaching is the best for you and that you are the best teacher for these kids.”

It was Michael’s turn to sigh deeply. “I know. Thank you, James. You are a good friend.”

* * *

The day of the final assessment arrived much more rapidly than Michael had hoped. He had found very little sleep during the last week. Mornings and evenings were occupied by special help sessions for the students. His nights were spent lying on an unsteady cot in the back of his classroom. He rarely made it back to his own bedroom, which was located in the educators’ section of the dorm.

Hour after hour, he found himself staring at the antiseptic white of the ceiling and the mountainous stacks of books and papers. His mind raced to derive mnemonic devices or techniques that would help the students earn the most points possible.

Fueled by fear and caffeine, Michael put on his most confident face as he prepared to address his students. The clock marched steadily towards noon: the national test starting time.

Before beginning, Michael ritualistically perused the room, naming each child and thinking of an individual characteristic or an enduring trait.

Maghi would, no doubt, someday be a captain of industry.

Todd had the quickest and slyest sense of humor of anyone in the school.

Tonya, quiet and shy. She was on the complete opposite end of the puberty spectrum from Maghi. She was, in essence, nothing more than a sweet little girl. She should be playing with dolls, not taking a test which carried such extreme consequences.

The last child Michael surveyed was Joey. He struggled with academics but was respected by everyone at the school because his heart possessed a special sort of kindness.

The teacher raised his head and smiled. It was a tiny smile, but one filled with boundless care and respect. “Well, class, we will begin the assessment in about five minutes. Before I start reading the official instructions, I just want to thank you all for a great year. I apologize for being so stressed lately. But please understand: I do honestly lo... like and care for each and every one of you. I want you to succeed. I want you to have the best. Promise me you will give your fullest effort. Don’t forget the test-taking skills we reviewed. Do your best. That’s all I am asking from you. I only hope I have not failed any of you.”

Maghi, per usual, was the voice of the class. “Don’t worry, Mr. Rawley, we will do fine. You are a great teacher.”

“Yeah,” added Todd. “We will make you proud. We’ll get you a huge bonus.”

“I’m sure you will. Thank you all very much.”

Before he could add any more to the discussion, a klaxon sounded, announcing the official start of the exam. Michael read the scripted directions and soon the students were completely absorbed in the test. Each answer was instantly registered on their computer touch screens.

“Good luck, my children,” Michael whispered.

* * *

Because of the importance of the test, the National Education Directive reported results within an hour of its conclusion. Michael sat in the lounge. He had managed to pull a folding chair as far from the other seventh-grade teachers as possible. His complete attention was focused solely on his laptop. He glared intently at the monitor as if he could will the small computer to reveal positive scores or, at the very least, melt into nonexistence. Faint sounds of revelry filtered through the door. The children were totally immersed in the after-test party being held in the gymnasium. They were totally oblivious to the importance of the results.

“I’m certain my class did outstanding. They were so ready, so confident,” announced Miss Penholder to no one in particular.

James Pascal tentatively approached Michael and placed his hand on the ashen-faced young man’s shoulder. “It’s going to be fine, Michael. You did everything you could. You did a great job. Remember, if any of them fail, they won’t be automatically euthanized. They go into the lottery. Food supplies are starting to rebound nicely. The odds of someone being chosen in the lottery are getting smaller every year.”

“But if even one of those kids fails and is taken, I’m going to be at fault.” Michael found himself shaking. He could not tell whether it was out of fear or despair.

“Every one of your students passed last year, and that was your first year. They will again this year. Have faith.”

Michael wanted to believe his former mentor. He respected the silver-haired, kind-hearted, gentleman. James had been teaching since before the war. It was a marvel he continued to do so after so many years.

“Last year, I was really lucky. The class I was assigned was chock full of gifted students. This year, the kids are wonderful, but they are not academically strong.”

James prepared to say more, but melodic beeping sounds came from all the laptops in the room; the varied volumes and pitches produced a short-lived melody. Everyone’s attention turned to the results which had begun to scroll down each individual screen. The older educator, less stressed than anyone else in the room, patted Michael once and then ambled over to his own device.

The individual class results appeared at the top of Michael’s monitor; its font magnified and bold.

School W-12 Class 7 Section E: 21 Pass, 4 Fail

Michael held in a gasp, tears welling in his eyes.

“Told you. Nailed it,” shouted Amber from her corner of the room.

Trevor Mikovic z-score -1.45
Tonya Powers z-score -1.47
Mary Newman z-score -1.54
Joey Torfman z-score -2.01

Lottery results:

Even though the technology was able to post the results almost instantaneously, Michael thought the cursor sat blinking for an exceedingly agonizing period of time. The students whose names were followed by a “Yes” would be sent to a euthanasia center that evening. Michael would not be able to see them, talk to them, or express his regret. The school administration would simply pull them from their group and take them away. Their parents may or may not ever know their child’s fate. If a student’s name was followed by “No”, they would not be advanced to Secondary with the rest of the students. They would be sent home to join the physical labor force.

Trevor Mikovic NO
Tonya Powers NO
Mary Newman NO
Joey Torfman NO

Breathing for the first time in minutes, Michael hung his head, exhausted but relieved. He stared at the scuffed tile floor, oblivious to the rest of the room.

After a few minutes, he looked at the screen once again. He had failed these students. He was unable to get them to advance their education, but they were going to survive. His “family” would remain whole.

The computer pinged once again.

Overall Classroom Performance
School W-12 Class 7 Section E
z-score -1.29
Educator Lottery Result
Michael Rawley YES

Michael sat, unmoving, fixated on the lottery result. He knew the law. It had been thoroughly explained when the placement bureau had designated him as an education facilitator. He had not performed up to standard. Fairness demanded that anyone who could not successfully complete their duty should be eligible for the lottery, no matter their occupation. Had he been fortunate in the lottery, he would have been reassigned to some other duty, perhaps a different age group. He had not been fortunate.

Michael looked around the now empty room. The rest of the staff had gone to celebrate with their students, Michael took a deep breath. He then closed his eyes and went through the names of his class one more time. They were all special and had so much to offer.

“Goodbye, class.”

Copyright © 2019 by James Rumpel

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