Hey, you know what’s stupid? Standardized testing for children. It’s an incredible waste of time, and between national and state-specific tests it seems like a scourge that just won’t go away. So how about we see Bart and Lisa deal with it? I’m kind of surprised it hadn’t happened yet!
The episode begins with Homer and Marge having a celebration about the New Year. But not the new calendar year, they’re psyched about the new school year arriving, and the end of summer. Because now they can ship Bart and Lisa off to school, and let them become the state’s problem. They dance around while Lisa and Bart sullenly stomp off to school, and we’re given the B-Plot, which begins with Homer being given a check to mail to the insurance company so they can continue to have coverage. Thrilling!
So Bart and Lisa get to school and are immediately treated to a boring assembly from Principal Skinner. And it’s not good news, because Skinner is there to inform them that the school is going to have to participate in the Vice President’s Assessment Test, a massive standardized test that will figure out how much funding the school will be getting. So there’s a lot of pressure, which means they’re basically going to forgo real education and just train for the test.
Thus begins their school year, frantically cramming these children’s brains with as many analogies and world problems as possible to get them in fighting shape for the test. Every single class is now just about the test, some even just straight up having the kids memorize popular combinations of letters to fill into the Scantron sheet. And no one seems to be enjoying it, just like real life when kids are forced into stressful tests.
We then cut to test day, and Lisa is terrified. Bart doesn’t really seem to care though, and just plans on goofing off during the test. Oh and when Homer drops them off at school we make a startling realization that he doesn’t. He never mailed that check. Oh no! Anyway, that doesn’t matter yet. What does matter is as Bart and Lisa are walking up to the school he announces that he blew the practice test by just spelling out “Slurp My Snot” on the test. And Lisa is horrified.
But she shouldn’t be, because as they’re entering the school Bart is stopped by Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers and he’s told something insane. He aced the test. In fact, he did so well that he doesn’t have to take the real test, and is getting to go on a helicopter ride to a congratulatory pizza party. And Bart is stoked. However, he becomes less thrilled when he finds that the people on the helicopter waiting for him are Jimbo, Dolph, Kearney, Nelson, and Ralph.
Yep. This is a trap. Bart realizes just too late, as the “helicopter’s” door is slammed shut, and it’s revealed to just be the school bus. Skinner and Otto are the only other two people on the bus, and they’re getting ready to take this group of dummies and hide them all day so that they don’t drag down the rest of the school’s average scores. And everyone but Bart is too dumb to realize what’s going on, thinking that they’re legitimately getting rewarded for being geniuses.
Meanwhile, Homer has finally spotted the overdue insurance bill, and promptly freaks the hell out. He realizes that he’s officially uninsured, and starts panicking, knowing that anything could happen now, and he’d be held liable. So Homer rushes to the insurance office, and finds that it’s closed until 3 pm that afternoon. Homer slips the check in, and begins worrying that he’ll be uninsured for the rest of the afternoon, and begins trying to be as careful as possible.
Back at the school we see that the testing is about to begin with Superintendent Chalmers proctoring the exam, and all of the kids are stuffed into the cafeteria to take the test. And Lisa is panicking. She’s incredibly worried that she will fail the test, and when she looks at the first question and finds that all of the possible answers are correct and the point of the test is to find the “most correct,” she realizes that she’s screwed.
But we now have three different stories to juggle, so let’s get back to the dummy patrol. Because things aren’t going well. They’re driving along in Capital City, trying to keep the idiots as far from the school as possible, and Bart begins mocking Skinner that he got trapped with them. And to make matters worse Ralph decides he needs to pee, so the whole group have to head into a gas station bathroom to take care of that. And when they come out of the bathroom they find that local hoodlums have completely stolen everything off the bus, leaving them stranded in a rough part of town.
Homer meanwhile is running home, trying to tell Marge that they’re uninsured and have to be as safe as possible. But when he gets there he finds that Marge is hosting a book club, and the house is full of women who can potentially hurt themselves. So Homer just awkwardly skulks around the house, trying to keep everyone safe until 3 o’clock comes around. He does end up flinging a knife out of the window and into Mr. Burns’ head, but that happens after 3, so he’s fine.
So Skinner and the dummies are walking though Capital City, trying to get home in one piece, when something absurd happens. They lose Ralph and find him on a garbage barge, heading out to see. The dummies just kind of laugh about this, but Skinner goes into panic mode, trying to solve this massive problem. And his best idea is to write a note to a man operating a crane, and using Bart’s slingshot to fire it over to him in the hopes that he’ll help save Ralph.
However, the note knocks the man unconscious, and his crane begins dropping pianos out of the shipping container it was holding, which are about to drop on Ralph. So Skinner does the only thing he can, and jumps down onto the container, using the law of conservation of angular momentum to turn the container and save the day.
And in the process he’s impressed the dummies, who have actually learned something. So they get onto the barge and sail back to the Elementary School, just in time for Skinner to march in and announce that he doesn’t believe in testing anymore, and no one needs to take the test anymore. Which was good news for Lisa, who was so paralyzed with fear that she didn’t even manage to answer a single question. But everyone’s off the hook and gets to have a fun Footloose dance party!
I liked this episode quite a bit. There were some messy elements, like how vestigial the Homer insurance plot and the Lisa panicking in the cafeteria plots really were, but by and large I enjoyed this episode. Primarily because the message ends up being that standardized testing is absurd, which is something I completely agree with. Because I remember going to Elementary and Middle School and being forced to take a Colorado test called the CSAP that determined funding. But unlike this episode, there was a different side to the test where if we didn’t do well we also could get more funding. So the goal was to ace it of flunk it, because the two extremes was what got the most money. Which is ridiculous. So we had to sit there and get answers drilled into our heads, in the hopes that we’ll either perfectly regurgitate it, or be too full of information and completely botch the damn thing. Because that’s the kind of stress that you need to drop on a ten-year old.
Take Away: Standardized tests are ridiculous, and we should focus on actual demonstration of information, not just rote regurgitation.
“How the Test Was Won” was written by Michael Price and directed by Lance Kramer, 2009.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons