A Springboard for You

For a better life and a better eternity

More Tests Should Be Like an Eye Exam

I took Ethan, my eight year old, for an eye exam today. This whole experience proved how uptight I am. Ethan was sitting behind that crazy contraption hearing, “Which looks better? One or Two?” and “Can you read the smallest line?” I was sitting on a chair in the corner upset because I could see the smallest line projected on the wall and he was getting the questions wrong.

Can you believe it? For a brief moment I was sitting there thinking, “Oh my goodness, my son is going to fail his eye exam.” I know, I have issues.

Very quickly it hit me. You can’t fail an eye exam. Eye exams aren’t about pass and fail. The eye exam doesn’t say, “You can’t read the bottom line? You are a loser and a failure.” Rather, it simply says, “Here is where you are and here is how to get you where you need to be.” 

Getting an accurate assessment of exactly where a person is with this exam is pretty important. In fact, we had to have this exam because the new glasses we just spent hundreds of dollars purchasing didn’t work right because the prescription was too powerful. It made his distance vision extremely clear, but he couldn’t read. With school starting up next week, we had to get that fixed.

Plus, since this exam is not about pass and fail, there is no need to cheat. In fact, cheating is detrimental to the process. Cheating will give us the wrong prescription again. 

It dawned on me. Maybe more tests, even in school, need to be more like an eye exam. Instead of testing in order to determine pass or fail, how about we start testing just to see where everyone is and what they need to work on? Instead of saying someone has failed because they can’t read the same line as someone else, how about we just learn where they need to work and then prescribe a plan of action for them. 

Maybe that approach won’t work at school. I don’t know. After all, it will really be hard for one teacher to tailor the teaching to the 25 different levels on which his/her students find themselves. It is just a lot easier to try to get them all on the same page, fail them if they can’t keep up and then shunt them off to the remedial class. 

I can’t fix schools. But I can work on me. My kids and I would have been spared many heartbreaking nights and altercations if I had been taking this approach every time I helped them with their homework. Instead of viewing them as failures because they didn’t get some principle yet, I should have recognized the homework and tests merely showed where they needed to work. It was actually a good thing to learn about the questions they missed. Then I get an accurate assessment of where they are and then I learn how to help.

It also helps me personally. When I mess up and get something wrong. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure or a loser. It just means I have to do some work on that particular spot. That means I don’t have to cheat to impress anybody. I just need to figure out where I am and work to grow from there.

Let’s work and learn together.



July 31, 2008 - Posted by | Making Mistakes, Success | , , , , , , ,


  1. I think you’ve got some good ideas there. but there’s a difference in failing an Algebra test because I didn’t study and failing an eye exam. one is my fault – the other isn’t. no one looks at a kid who can’t read the giant “E” and says “you’re a loser.” he didn’t mess up, or choose to be that way. but if I’m not prepared to take an exam because I went to the movies then I bear the responsibility and ought to be held accountable for that. make sense?

    Comment by Mark Roberts | August 1, 2008

  2. Hey Mark, Great comment. This shows how easy it is to get a bit of tunnel vision. When I wrote my article, I wasn’t even thinking about folks who “fail” because they didn’t work at all.

    However, I’m not sure what to do about this. When it comes to Algebra, I hardly studied, but I always passed. Was I anymore of a “success” or “winner” than the guy who didn’t study anymore than me but “failed”?

    This just makes me realize there is something that just isn’t working in the system. I don’t know how to fix it, but maybe some good dialogue from folks on all sides can get something figured out.

    All I know is I hate to see people who are just slower on some subjects or less gifted get lumped in with folks who don’t try at all. I hate to see them treated like failures. I know the answer is not just to “pass” them on effort, because they still don’t know the material or can’t work the problems. But at the same time, if we just shunt them off to the side as remedial, they may quit trying altogether and then you get people who fail because they don’t study.

    Maybe someone else who is smarter than me can chime in on this.


    Comment by edwincrozier | August 1, 2008

  3. I really enjoyed this blog. I will try to view things like this more often. This has given me a whole new outlook on teaching as well. I will try this approach with my Pre-Kindergarteners. Thanks!

    Comment by Genesia Jeffries | August 2, 2008

  4. I agree with Edwin – there are kids who are trying but for whatever reason they don’t get it. they are labeled “failures” and often believe the label. they get dumped in with kids who don’t care and don’t want to try and not surprisingly, pretty soon they are affected by that and also don’t care/want to try.

    after having two kids go through the public education system I’m convinced of a couple of things: no one has a clue how to help the “poor” catch up so the rich just keep getting richer and richer and the poor get poorer and poorer. smart kids get put in advanced classes and get smarter and smarter – kids who “fail” get put in remedial classes and lots of times give up. no one seems to know how to get kids from remedial to advanced. it’s terrible.

    the other thing I’ve learned is that if you don’t read really really well you aren’t going to do well in our educational system. maybe there’s no other way to do it but that’s how it is: if you can read fast and remember what you read you’ll do great. if you can’t … well, too bad for you….

    Comment by Mark Roberts | August 2, 2008

  5. I absolutely agree that reading is a big part of it. I’m sure there are successful people in life who don’t read well. But, I imagine, if someone were to do a test, for each one of them there are 10 non-readers who are scraping the bottom of life’s barrel and 10 readers who are leading the pack.


    Comment by edwincrozier | August 2, 2008

  6. Also, Genesia, let us know how you implement making more tests like eye exams with your pre-k kids and tell us how it works. I think that is a great place to start because just about all pre-k kids are all about learning. Somehow, school seems to sap that from them as they grow up.


    Comment by edwincrozier | August 2, 2008

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: