Because when kids are stressed, let's make an even bigger deal about it by sending them a letter from a strange man they don't know...
In his letter to children, Governor Haslam made this comparison, "In a lot of ways, TNReady is like a yearly check-up with your doctor. Just as a check-up lets your doctor know if you’re growing and healthy, TNReady lets your parents know if you’re growing in school. Information from TNReady will help teachers see what you know. It will also show what needs a little more work so you can stay on track."
First off, children at that age are old enough to know that going to the doctor isn't usually a pleasant experience. It could mean vaccines, or a strep test that hurts your throat, or drawing blood with needles, or yucky tasting medicines you have to take, or doctors who tell your parents you need to eat more vegetables. Rarely is a trip to the doctor at this age something that children enjoy.
And since many children in TN without health insurance don't visit the doctor for checkups annually, this comparison probably makes even less sense to them.
But, hey, let's go with that whole "doctor visit" comparison on a logical adult level...
Let's say little Billy Haslam goes to the doctor for his yearly check-up. His doctor has been trained to listen to his heart, check his vitals, ask specific questions, and notice things that would indicate if Billy is healthy or not. Billy's doctor has years of education and experience as a doctor, so Billy's Mom trusts him. Billy's doctor says Billy needs additional testing.
The doctor explains to Billy's mom that Billy's testing will take Billy 7-9 hours to complete. Billy has been feeling just fine. His mom wonders if Billy really need such a time-consuming test? The doctor insists saying this test will determine if little Billy is healthy, below healthy, or extra healthy. No excuses, he's gotta do it. Mom can't refuse the test because it is the law.
So, Billy's personal assistant, oops, we mean Billy's Mommy, must change his schedule for the weeks of testing so that Billy is able to test during the mornings when he's most alert. In fact, everyone's schedules change for the next few weeks so that Billy can do this.
Billy is ready.
No, wait, he's not ready...
Before Billy can take this test, his doctor sends home packets of paperwork for him to complete. Billy must practice for this test. Rigorously practice. (Note: Some doctors send home test practice paperwork with patients to complete over their summer and winter vacations, but Billy's doctor only gave him a month's worth of preparation... Gee, we hope Billy does okay!).
The night before the test, Billy's Mom says he must go to bed early to get a good night's rest. Billy is getting a little worried because his doctor is putting so much importance on this test. Billy's Mom tells him she loves him no matter what the test shows, just to try his best. Billy lies awake at bedtime worrying about this test that everyone keeps talking about.
Billy goes to test
Billy's Mom wakes up early to make a nutritious breakfast, but Billy doesn't eat much of it because he is nervous about this test. In the car on the way to the test, Billy's mommy hears a radio advertisement about this test. Billy's mom believes that this test will be fabulous for her son.
Billy enters the doctor's office, and sees big poster on the wall telling Billy to do his best on this test. Even stranger, Billy can't stop staring at the nurses' chests; they are all wearing t-shirts that say "READY to Zap the Test!" Before Billy tests, he is presented with some gifts: a letter from the U.S. President wishing him well on this test and a #2 piddler with red circles on it!
Billy is led to a room with bare walls. The nurses tell Billy the procedure: only urinate in the correct cup and do not stray outside of the cups. The nurses will tell him when to start and stop. If Billy does well today, he can have some candy! Candy sounds nice, but Billy wonders why they are trying to make this test so much fun? Is there a catch to it?
The usually nice nurses are acting even stranger now when Billy tries to ask a question about this test. They can only repeat the instructions again, with no inflection in their voices. Billy thinks they sound like robots.
Billy doesn't know it, but the nurses are not allowed to look at the test or answer Billy's questions. In fact, if the nurses and doctors talk about Billy's test, like how the urine cup seems to have leaky holes, they could be fired and/or lose their professional licenses. They just smile at him and tell him to pee darkly to fill up the cups, and don't make any careless drops.
Over the next few weeks, Billy must spend 8 hours peeing in different color cups. Cut Billy off mid-stream! On day 5, the labels are all wrong and don't match the correct set of cups, so Billy has to wait a long time for the nurses to get it figured out. See, the cups are supposed to come pre-labeled with Billy's name on it, but for some reason they don't, and the nurses aren't trusted to write Billy's name on the cups. A testing specialist has to be brought into sort it out.
After several days of this testing, Billy is beginning to get frustrated, bored, careless, and sloppy with all of this testing, even when the nurses bribe him with a crazy hair day and a popsicle. Billy chews nervously on the #2 Piddler and finishes 2 weeks of testing with grit and perseverance.
Hooray, Billy's test is over!
Billy, he did his best. He's exhausted. His weekly schedule has been disrupted for three weeks now. He is glad for it to be over and so are the nurses.
Billy wants to know how he did.
Billy's mommy wonders how he did.
Billy's doctor wonders how he did.
They'll have to wait 6 months.
The test results won't be back for 6 months, at the very least.
Billy's mom asks what good this test is if the results take so long to get back? She points out that six months is halfway to the next annual check up! His doctor says, "Look, don't blame me. I HAD to give the test. If I don't give every one of my patients that test, my clinic wouldn't get paid and I would lose my professional license. Just be glad the test is over. Hopefully we'll get some good data in six months that will help me to know how to treat Billy."
SEVEN months later...
Everyone's test results finally arrive! Hooray!
The doctor looks at the test results and says, "yep, that's what I figured. Billy is healthy."
Billy's Mom gets a copy of the results, too. Her copy is really pretty with lots of pretty colors and graphs that look generally vague (because the prettier they make it, the less likely mommy will figure out that there is actually nothing useful about how Billy did on the test). There are a few sentences on the test results: "Billy is healthy and on track to live a long and prosperous life with an above-average salary, a beautiful wife, 2 children, and a cat. It is recommended that Billy needs to work on flossing his teeth and not picking his boogers in public."
Since the doctors, nurses, and parents are forbidden from ever seeing the actual test, they have no idea if the test actually measures what the testing company claims it does.
The graph on Billy's results show how he compared to other children who took the test. These comparisons are done on a secretive curve formulated by the testing company. This means that about 5% of children will be extra healthy, about 30% will be below healthy, and the rest are in the middle healthy. There is no gray area between the categories, every child is sorted into one of them.
That will be $30 million dollars, paid for by tax payers. Wait, we forgot to include the cost of the doctors and nurses to administer the test.
(Let's not even talk about the cost of the pencils, radio ads, postcards, and letters from important people that were sent to the test-takers. Those costs were covered by anonymous people and corporations who believe wholeheartedly in the test. How nice of them! What's that you say??? Those people don't take the test? Their children don't either? This makes Billy's Mom grow skeptical of their motives.)
Time for another yearly check-up!
Billy and his mom are shocked to learn that his old doctor was fired. Unfortunately, Billy's test results proved that his doctor was ineffective. In fact, the whole hospital was closed due to the bad test results of the children. The entire office and hospital have been given to a private charter company to get better test results from all the children on the next test. The new leadership also got millions of dollars in grants from philanthropists and the federal government; these grants will buy ipee-pads for all the children to improve their aim for this year's test.
Billy's NEW doctor sends an enormous packet of practice paperwork for Billy to do over the next 5 months. Billy is also prescribed a weekly practice test, some screener tests, and a set of 3 benchmark tests to predict how Billy will do on the next test. Billy must improve his scores on the next big test to show growth or the doctor will look bad! Billy's doctor also tells him about a new section on the big test; it is called a "colonoscopy."
Billy's mom wants to refuse the next test. She thinks it is too stressful, too time consuming, too expensive, and too secretive. This was too much pressure on her son, and it honestly didn't tell her anything helpful or anything that she didn't already know.
Absolutely not. Billy's mom is not allowed to refuse the test for her son. It is against the law to opt out of this test. Because she tried to opt out, Billy's Mom got a letter from the State of TN saying she had no right to keep her child from taking this test. Billy's doctor warned her if she didn't let them test her, she could be turned in to DHS for being a negligent parent, plus, the doctor needs to know if Billy is healthy, extra healthy, or below healthy to treat him right as a patient. If Billy doesn't take the test, he will get a ZERO score, which means he is basically brain dead. He will not have a beautiful wife or a cat when he grows up if he does not take this test.
We love Happy Endings!
Billy's mom hears about a group of moms called Momma Bears. In addition to advocating for strong public schools, they opt their children out of ridiculous tests like the one Billy took. These moms created a website, a blog, and a Facebook page where they share helpful information. Sometimes, they even tweet stuff. Billy's Mom is rightly skeptical at first. She learns that the Momma Bears are volunteer moms who don't get a penny for all the research, writing, and sharing they do. Their motive is children.
Billy's Mom spends time reading on their website, clicking links for proof. Billy's Mom is better able to make informed decisions for her child. Not only that, Billy's Mom gets brave and contacts her elected officials! She tells them to change the law and get rid of this awful test.
It is a miracle!
The legislators listen to Billy's Mom! Those legislators know they need her vote to keep their jobs. Billy's Mom tells her friends about Momma Bears and about opting out. The more that Moms know, the more empowered they are to be advocates for their children. The power of these Moms can change the world! They politely pester their elected officials until positive change happens, the world is a better place, and everyone lives happily ever after.