Meet Blain: he wants to be a nurse.  He is currently enrolled at a local university.  He is focused, hard-working, and goal-oriented, but he has a problem.  Although he is fascinated with the human body and has no difficulty at all with medical terms or anatomy, he hasn’t been able to get into the nursing program.  Why?  Because he doesn’t know what a predicate nominative is.

In order to get into his school’s nursing program, he has to pass a standardized test called the Hesi A2, and he has passed it — all the sections except grammar.   His school requires that he get 80% or better on the grammar section of this test.

I know what you are thinking.  You are way back in paragraph one thinking to yourself, “what is a predicate nominative?  and what does it have to do with nursing?” Exactly.

Meet Conner:   He would really like to go to MSU’s James Madison School, or maybe Miami University of Ohio, or even Butler University.  He’s a delightful kid.  He plays soccer on a travel team, is respectful toward his parents, and is willing to engage in four hours of tutoring each week — after he’s already put in full days at school.  Why? Because his ACT score isn’t quite high enough to get into the programs he is interested in.

Then there’s Joe.  Joe’s parents are both career police officers. They have positions of authority within local law enforcement agencies.  He wants to follow in their path.  He just returned from a visit to the US Naval Academy — his dream school.  His eyes are gleaming with hope and possibility.  He wants to do just what his parents are doing — contribute to society by serving and protecting.  When I met him the first time in the foyer of the local library, I looked up at his imposing stature to see a smiling face topped off with a military haircut.  He was at once intimidating and engaging.  He was born for this.

But he may not get into the Naval Academy.  For good reason, the Naval Academy is very selective.  It is a four-year education paid by the United States government to prepare the future leaders of our Navy.  Like West Point and the Air Force Academy, it must select only the brightest and the best.  And although Joe has law enforcement in his DNA, he has experienced some learning difficulty.  He has done YEARS of interventions to improve his reading issues, but still, he struggles to get the standardized test scores that he needs.

Is he discouraged? Nope.  He greets me every week at the library, smiling.  He leans with me over an ACT prep book as we practice item after item, discussing rules and strategies.  He knows he has to work to achieve his goal.  He knows he has to have a backup plan, so he is also considering other military schools and ROTC programs.

Three guys I’m working with right now (names changed, of course) — all pursuing their dreams, all trying to overcome an obstacle in the path.

That obstacle? Testing.

I’m not against testing.  We have to have some way to determine which students fit in which programs.  Not everyone can be successful at Harvard — probably only those who score in the top 1-5 % of everyone in the nation. Not everyone can or should be a nurse.  And, when it comes to national security, I, for one, am glad that the armed forces have high standards for ‘officer material.’   Testing is one way to help individuals, and schools,  determine who has the aptitude or education for any of thousands of programs.  But it’s not the only way.

The three gentlemen I described above are all trying to raise their test scores, yes, but they are stacking the deck in other ways.  Blain works part-time as a pharmacy tech which gives him access to medical terminology and the world of health care.  Conner takes all AP classes at his high school and has worked hard enough to earn himself a 3.5. Joe? He is part of his community’s police explorer’s program.  He is taking every opportunity he can to expose himself to the career he hopes is in his future.

Do I believe they will succeed?  In one way or another, yes, if they are willing to accept that the definition of success is not fixed.  Certainly Blain may become a nurse, Conner may get into his top choice university, and Joe may go to the Naval Academy.  However, some or all of those goals may not be achieved.  Each of these guys may experience trajectory. And, I’m learning, the vehicle for that trajectory may be a test.

A score that is earned during four hours of testing on a Saturday morning can make the difference between attending the University of Michigan or attending Central Michigan University — both are great schools, both have thousands of success stories to their credit.  That score could also determine the difference between $10,000 or $1,000 in scholarship money — substantial to almost every college-aged kid that I know. The score could force choices that each of my students can’t right now imagine they are going to have to make. That score could cause — trajectory.

Will they be able to navigate that trajectory? My gut says yes.  Why?  Because each of these guys has not settled for the initial test score.  Each saw the score and said to himself, “OK, what now?” He didn’t curl up in a corner and decide that his goals were unattainable.  He made a decision to take action.

That decision tells me that he will take future bumps in the road with finesse.  If he doesn’t get into his desired program, I am confident he will research and find one that better fits his needs.  If he gets into his program but somehow determines that it wasn’t a good match after all, he will regroup and prepare for a transition. If somehow he gets into the program, completes it, and then discovers that his interests lie in a different field altogether?  No problem — he will have navigated difficulty in the past and will be prepared to ride the next, if bigger, wave.

What a joy it is for me to join these gentlemen on their journey, to watch their resilience, and to learn from them how to navigate trajectory.

Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds,

because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

James 1:2-3

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