I’m back from a fun week of

2/6/08 — I’m back from a fun week of speaking in schools. Got to meet hundreds of great kids, and staff after staff filled with dedicated and hardworking educators.

I couldn’t help but notice, however, the high stress levels among kids and teachers as they prepared for upcoming writing assessments. The pressure from higher-ups to meet standards is very intense. Many kids I talked to were feeling negative about writing.

Who could blame them? In this particular state (which will remain unnamed) the kids are handed a prompt — for either an expository essay or a narrative; they don’t know which until the assessment begins — and then given 45 minutes to plan, compose, and rewrite, with the expectation that they will produce a finished piece.

45 minutes! That’s it! What real writer does the same in such a short amount of time? Maybe a journalist on deadline, but that’s the only person I can think of offhand. Thank goodness I’m not assessed in the same way. I’d flunk flat, and never want to write again.

And yet here I am a professional writer . . .

I tried to help as much as I could, offering strategies on how to approach the assessment. I encouraged the kids to do their very best, give it 100%. But I also encouraged them to keep things in perspective. If they don’t do as well as they’d like, well, don’t let a poor performance ruin their concept of themselves as writers.

Because that’s what I fear that unrealistic test is going to do for lots of them.

This is not the first time this issue has presented itself to me. I’ve been in hundreds of schools all over the country. It’s a nationwide issue. One that I am increasingly coming to believe does little to foster learning, but instead threatens it.