Every year at test time, the recommendations for optimum student performance come home: eat a healthy breakfast, get a good night’s sleep. It reminds me of the local newscast on the first hot day of summer (wear sunscreen, drink plenty of water) or during the forecast of the year’s first cold snap (keep covered, don’t stay outside too long). I reach for the remote; I can’t help but resent having common sense explained to me on a program called “News.”
It seems the same with the healthy-breakfast-plenty-of-rest chestnut. Even though we don’t always achieve them, these are the goals we always have for our kids. We also try to have them wash their hands and get plenty of exercise.
What bothers me in particular about the perennial test-day advice is not its pedantic nature, though. It’s that this wisdom is aimed specifically at test day.
Good breakfasts and rest are, indeed, lab-tested and proven to improve the brain’s ability to learn. It’s good advice for a better-educated child. So, if these practices support learning, why are we advocating them for test day? When is the last time a student actually learned something new during a standardized assessment?
Trotting this advice out as a way to improve test scores is a subtle and insidious way our culture extols the educational virtues of testing. It perpetuates the myth that the day of the test is a particularly significant day in your child’s education, when, in reality, it’s closer to a day off. Testing is not a learning experience for your child; it’s a period of the day that’s guaranteed to be free from instruction. When you think about it that way, it’s unsettling how much time we spend doing it.
I don’t want to give test day special reverence; it’s not a holy day. It’s not even an educational day. If you want to show your kids that education is a priority, tell them that’s why you’re being strict about their nutrition and sleep on school days when they’re actually going to learn something.