Testers should look at behavior, not tests for warning signs

Earlier this week, Gannett News Service reported that states are routinely beginning to screen students’ state writing exams for signs of child abuse, depression and threats of violence.

If the scorers of these tests feel that the writing contains either “disturbing” images or language, the test may be forwarded to the local school district which can decide whether to notify parents or recommend counseling for the student.

Testing officials argue that many times children use passive outlets like writing tests to express themselves, so their words should be taken seriously.

Florida reports that 97 tests out of 578,581 were flagged in 2005.

The State Department of Education Web site says that FCAT writing tests are graded on how well a student “focuses on the topic, is purposeful, and reflects insight into the writing situation.”

There is, however, no information included about them trying to analyze students’ mental health.

I think that it is absolutely absurd to use the answers given on these tests to gauge anyone’s emotional state.

If anything, I feel that vivid imagery and language show that the student is attempting to think outside of the box.

I’m sure if they knew that their answers could be used against them, it would only stifle their creative growth.

Besides, Stephen King sells millions of books filled with disturbing images. The mental state of King nor his readers has ever been questioned.

Though most states admit that they have long used the tests in this way, testing officials say they have been more sensitive about notifying schools since the Columbine High School shootings in 1999.

But those who knew the two responsible for that massacre reported that all the signs leading to their violence were in their behavior, not in their in-class essays.

In fact, there have been more school shootings since Columbine, so what kind of difference are these “alerts” really making?

If educational officials really want to get a heads up on what’s on the minds and hearts of students, try asking them.

I know that I would be a lot more open to the thought of a teacher coming to me out of genuine concern, rather than just because I set off an alarm with some test scorer that I didn’t even know.

Many times teachers spend more time with students than their own parents, so they should be the first ones to notice a problem.

Writing tests are administered to measure the writing skills of a student– that’s it.

If states want to know anything else about the author, they should look for signs in the classroom.

Samantha Long is a sophomore broadcast journalism student from Atlanta. She can be reached at hidlake@aol.com.