We forget how hard it is on children to be wrong or not know. I visited my former school recently for a holiday party and got into a conversation with a colleague who helps with testing mandates, computer management and data handling.

He told me he had tried the Northwest Evaluation Association test and was impressed how hard it got for him. We are both 60-some years old, both have math degrees, and we are interested in and really enjoy being challenged — partially because we don’t worry that we’re being judged by how we do.

But that’s not the attitude of most students. They know they’re being judged. One cohort doesn’t and won’t care; despite that, their scores get averaged in with everyone else’s. Another cohort will make a valiant effort; even they get bruised, not excited, when they hit the ceiling.

The largest cohort is willing to go along — the I’ll-try group — but when they run into a question that is off their charts, there is an effect. It might be anger: “This test isn’t fair, I can’t possibly know that.” It might be resignation: “I’m never good enough.”

Like a concussion on a football field, it affects the rest of the game as well as the rest of the season. Kids are resilient, but if they are repeatedly “tested until they break,” then the testing should be categorized as “destructive testing” — the kind used to ensure components are good enough for space probes. We break 10 to find one that is up to the task.

But these are our 6-year-olds, 10-year-olds, adolescents. We want them to be strong and healthy, not damaged, confident that there are pathways that don’t end in failure. We want them to earn and know success.

Jim Perkins, Wayne

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