N took a couple of benchmark-type tests over the past couple of weeks, and he did poorly on them (though much better when the teacher retested him on the math under non-test conditions...like 'going from failing to one percentage point below proficient' better).
Baroy took out the reading benchmark after they'd finished homework today, and asked N about some of the questions, only to hear from N that he doesn't bother reading the comprehension passages after the first sentence or two; he just answers the questions. "Sometimes I get them right," he said, matter-of-factly. "And sometimes not."
Assuming that he was indeed telling the truth (which is not actually an assumption it's safe to make with N and the recounting of this sort of thing, but let's say it is, just for the sake of argument), I decided to have a 'talk' with him about how that's not a good way to conduct yourself during tests.
"You know, N, when you don't bother reading the passages, you don't get the questions right a lot of the time. And when you don't get the questions right, it makes the people who look at the test think you're not very smart."
"But I do get them right."
"Some of them, yes. But not a lot of them. And if you read the passages, I bet you'd get a lot of them right, and then your teachers and people like that would know how smart you really are."
"But what if they looked at it and said, 'He gets answers wrong, but he's still smart.'"
I should have stopped there and then. Once N gets going with the "but what if"s, it's all over.
"Well, that would be nice, but people looking at how you do on your tests won't say that. They'll think you don't know how to read, when you do."
"But what if they listen to me read and they know that I can read 'American Indian.' Then they'll know I can read."
"But they won't, because they'll be looking at the...Never mind. How about this: You really want to be a fireman when you grow up, right? Well, if you don't do your best on tests and read all the instructions and reading passages and questions and stuff like that, the fire chief is going to tell you that you can't be a fireman, because firemen need to know how to read and do math and follow instructions, and by looking at your tests, the fire chief will think you don't know how to do any of those things very well."
[I know. Shut up. I was trying to get him to give a crap, which is about the hardest thing to do in N's world; all bets were off.]
"But what if I read The Fire Cat to them or my dragon book, and then they said, 'Oh, N's a great reader of books to us.'"
"But they won't know that you're a great reader, because they'll see from your tests that you don't bother reading the passages, so they'll think you can't read, so they won't even ask you to read to them in the first place!"
This actually got him to stop for a second. Baroy, who was filling up the dishwasher while I talked to N, looked over at me with a look that said, "Is it possible that he's going to take what you said seriously? Is it possible that you got through?"
No. No, it was not possible.
N took a deep breath, raised his eyebrows, and went in for his version of the kill. "BUT, what if they said that I couldn't be a fireman and then they said, 'Oh, but he's already the fire CHIEF,' and so I said, 'So I can be a fireman if I want to,' and then they said 'Hooray for N the fire chief,' and..." What was already fairly nonsensical devolved further, and I stopped listening.
"Maybe you're right, N," I said, interrupting. "Maybe that will happen. But I think you'd have a much better chance at doing what you want to do if you'd just take your tests a little more seriously."
He barely took a breath. "But what if I didn't ever have to take another test, and..."