Like most youngsters, when I was a little kid I wanted to be a big kid. Big kids at St. Jude’s Episcopal School had Ms. Mencker as their teacher. She taught kindergarten at a school that only went up to kindergarten, so her students were just as big as big kids could be. Except my brothers, who were really big kids of course but that escaped my attention because they wanted to be even bigger kids. So they weren’t really big kids in my mind, even though they were bigger than the big kids in Ms. Mencker’s class. Cut me some slack, my mind was only capable of managing pre-school thoughts at the time.
Whenever I brought it up, they’d just say “you will in time” or somesuch, they just didn’t get it. So I found another way of telling Mom that I wanted to be a big kid: I told her that I wanted to be in Ms. Mencker’s class. My logic was that Mom would give me what I wanted since it didn’t cost money and then I would magically be a bigger kid. I’d found a loophole in the system! Unfortunately, Mom denied my request but did file it away for future use.
When I was about ready for kindergarten, my teachers privately expressed concern with my parents that I was behind the other students. I would stare blankly when I was supposed to be finger painting, I ate inordinate amounts of glue, and other stuff like that. They wanted to hold me back a year and figured that the best way to do this would be for me to attend kindergarten at St. Jude’s (and perhaps by coincidence, pay an extra year of tuition) and then attend it again at West Oak Elementary, the local public school.
When I asked how come I was not going to West Oak like everyone else, Mom said that she was granting me my wish: I was going to get Ms. Mencker just like I had asked.
When I was in the second grade, standardized testing was becoming all the rage. At the time, Delosa elementary students were taking the California Achievement Test Test (The word “Test” being in there twice because it was called the CAT Test). Ms. Nolan, the counselor at West Oak Elementary was concerned because I was now staring off into the distance during mathematic lessons and still eating more glue than my teachers would prefer.
So Ms. Nolan called my mother in for a conference and outlined her concerns. She said that she was worried that my self-esteem would be hurt by failing the test and that I should refrain from taking it. It would also go in my Permanent Record, which was bad. And perhaps by coincidence, West Oak Elementary would look better on the standardized test scores, though I’m not sure that she was very upfront about that.
Mom said she would take it into consideration and looked further into it. As it turned out, the deferment Mom was being asked to sign would have put me in a special group that would have required my taking special instruction classes for the rest of my tenure at West Oak Elementary. If I deferred from taking the class a second time, I would be put in a special category that would, at the completion of my 12th grade year I wouldn’t receive a diploma but would instead get a “Certification of Attendance” which is more like a GED. So if I didn’t take it in the second grade and the fourth grade, or even if I didn’t take it in the second grade and was sick that week in the 10th grade, I would likely have to start my college career out at the local community college.
When Mom brought this to the attention of Ms. Nolan, Ms. Nolan said that this was true but that it was probably for the best. Quite bluntly, Mom said that deferment was basically for the mentally handicapped kids and I was not a handicapped kid. Nolan condescendingly responded that of course I was not stupid and of course I was a very talented and smart young man, but that it would be best if I were put with other kids that were uniquely smart and talented like I was. In short, she was saying that I was “short bus special” and Mom needed to come to terms with that. Mom declined, I took the test, and as it turned out my self-esteem was not hurt because my Permanent Record was so secret that even Mom and I couldn’t find out about it (this law was changed shortly afterwards and my folks were given access to all of my later standardized tests).
Flash forward about five years or so and Delosa no longer takes the CAT Test but has now switched to something called the Delosa Assessment of Knowledge (DAK). Students who didn’t pass the DAK were relegated to remedial reading in the 8th grade while other students got to opt out of reading and take an elective. I failed the DAK and ended up in a class with hoodlums, misfits, and the folks I would have gotten to know at West Oaks Elementary had Mom not opted for me to take the CAT Test.
Mom was quite distressed when the reading teacher asked for a student-teacher conference. I’d failed the DAK and she was probably going to ask that I not take it the next go-around. Mom got all of her evidence in order and went to see Ms. Cordoza. Turned out it was quite the opposite. Despite reading being my worst subject, I was blowing the other kids out of the water. In fact, I was positively bored and was drawing and writing comic books, which in turn was distracting the other students. Whereas other teachers were bothered by my looking blankly out into space, Cordoza apparently would have liked me to do more of it. Cordoza asked if she could have me teach other students or, if there wasn’t anything I could do for that, go play around in the computer lab across the hall.
Cordoza could not believe that I had failed the DAK and actually looked up my test scores, which were apparently just shy of passing. At the end of that year I took the DAK again… and failed it again.
Over eight years later, I graduated from Southern Tech University with honors. When I got the piece of paper, Mom asked if she could borrow it to have it framed. She did frame it for me, for which I am grateful. What she also did was photocopy it and send a copy of it to Ms. Nolan, for which I am also grateful.