Parenting Lesson number 357 – The PSAT

I thought I would share another parenting experience, where I was the bad guy, again, in the hope YOU can avoid it.

Standardized Tests

For many of us, we have academic hopes for our kids., The standardized tests (SAT & ACT) loom large in the requirements matrix to make it into most universities. Like many parents, we were a bit nervous about our son’s first brush with one of them, the PSAT.
This past fall, his high school offered the PSAT to all sophomores who wanted to take it. He did.
When asked how he thought he did after taking it, he said, “pretty good!”
Then we waited and waited.
Side note – despite being 2018, it still takes weeks to score and report multiple-choice tests.
Then finally, in came the results. Much to our surprise, the results were not what we expected. Our straight-A student, who typically tests in the 95th percentile, scored in the 40th!

Parental Maturity?

Here’s the sad parenting part of the story.
First, I told him these were poor results (as if he didn’t know, remember, he’s a straight-A student). In the basic lousy parenting form, I added the line teens love, “these results were well below our expectations!”
I then dug in, with a less-than-compassionate tone, “what the heck happened here? Did you even try?”
Then, I upped the stakes, “did you cheat and copy someone else?”
He looked befuddled and said he had no idea what went wrong. He only said, “They seemed like they were all trick questions, so I took my time and ended up not finishing every section!”
My wife dug deeper into the results. In one section, he got 7 out of 42 questions correct. 7 of 42!!!
More denials from my son. More consternation from his parents.
I then called one of my friends whose child is in college now, “you ever have this happen?”
“Not that bad, but those tests are super tricky. We enrolled our kid in a test prep class with a private tutor. It made a huge difference! It was only $5K!” 
That was two weeks ago.

The Plot Thickens

Then yesterday, an email from his High School with the subject line, “PSAT Re-take.”
I quote, because this is so hard to believe, “We are very sorry to inform you that we administered the October 11th version of the PSAT on October 25th, and therefore our scores have been invalidated. Furthermore, since the October 25th version of the PSAT answer key was used to grade our October 11th tests, these “for guidance only” scores may not be accurate.”
Don’t you love carefully crafted language? It looks like the district might have lawyered up.
It may not be accurate. I’m pretty sure they are entirely inaccurate if you used the wrong answer key. Fess up, educators! Fall on your sword!
At first, I was awash with relief. “Ah, that explains it!”
I immediately texted my son, “the PSAT results were corrupted; good news, you’re not an idiot; bad news, the school administrators, seem to be.”
Then, I reflected a bit. I knew my initial reaction to this whole situation wasn’t proper. Where was the love? Why, no compassion? How about some positive intent in the assessment of this awkward predicament?
The truth is not that it was there. Instead, there was fear.
Hence the accusatory tone.

The Lesson

When those results came in, I should have comforted my son with, “you know, you’re a smart kid, so either you had an off day, or something is up with the test. We’ll get through it, and you’ll be fine!”
Maybe next time, you can do that. That ship has sailed, and it is too late for me. I blew it.
As a friend told me, “Parenting is both the hardest and most rewarding thing you’ll do in your life.”
So true.

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