“States still must give standardized tests this year, Biden Administration announces.” — Education Week, 2/22/21

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“Laura! Mary! Carrie! Time for school!” Pa shouted, the merry twinkle in his eye alerting Laura that something either very good or very dangerous was up. With Pa you just never knew.

“But Pa,” Laura replied, “the scarlet fever is raging through our town. If we go to school, we may contract it. By the way, Mary seems a bit off this morning.”

Pa brushed Laura’s concerns aside. “Now listen, Half-Pint, this is a big day — you got an important test. No Ingalls is gonna let the threat of the sniffles get in the way of taking an examination that will determine whether or not you advance to the 5th grade.”

Laura considered this and then, with a boldness that surprised even herself, said, “But Pa, I’m not sure I’ll be able to concentrate. Besides, we’ve been mostly learning from home ever since the outbreak. And Ma, well, she’s a great butter churner and all, but her math skills don’t extend beyond the second grade. No offense, Ma.”

“None taken,” Ma murmured as she nursed the baby while cooking breakfast, hanging out the laundry, and knitting a scarf.

“No excuses! Now scoot!” yelled Pa. “The School Commissioner says the test is on! Debilitating fever or no debilitating fever.”

Laura mulled this over. “It just don’t seem fair to be testing children when their education has been interrupted — as evidenced by my recent use of the word ‘don’t’ instead of ‘doesn’t’ in the earlier part of this sentence. Not to mention the danger of transmission with 43 children and Miss Beadle packed into a one-room schoolhouse the size of Mr. Hanson’s woodshed.”

“I don’t make the rules; I just follow the ones I want,” Pa chuckled. He always appreciated his own displays of wit. “Isn’t that right, Caroline?”

“Yes indeed, Charles,” Ma replied softly as she burped the baby, canned the peaches, swept the dirt floor, white-washed the walls, and chopped the wood.

“But Pa,” Laura ventured, “don’t you think you and the other parents — the Olesons, the Edwards — could get together and pressure the School Commissioner to suspend these high-stakes tests, at least until we can catch up on our learning so’s to stand more than a snowball’s chance in hell of passing ’em? Here’s a thought: Maybe we don’t need these tests at all.”

Pa dismissed Laura’s bright idea and began to play his fiddle.

Undeterred, Laura continued, “Not to be disrespectful, but you and the Commissioner insisting we carry on with the normal activities of life in the middle of a health crisis, well, it gives me pause. Surely you don’t wish to see me fail this test — the potential impact resulting, for me, in a lifetime of academic ignominy.”

“That’s some fancy-pants vocabulary for a quasi-homeschooler with a household appliance for a schoolmarm,” Pa said admiringly. “No offense, Caroline.”

“You’re an asshole, Charles,” Ma quietly observed as she rocked the baby while skinning a porcupine, slamming her fist through the window, thrusting her head into the wood stove, and packing her bags.

Pa became thoughtful. Hope rose in Laura as she sensed her words had caused him to reflect upon the impact of his decision to send her to school during an epidemic to take a test certain to crush her self-esteem.

But as usual, Pa had the last word. “No Ingalls is gonna use logic to reasonably ask me to reconsider what’s best for you young’uns. Now stop your jaw-flapping and get to school. The blizzards only just started!”

With a deep sigh, Laura wrapped herself in her freshly knit scarf, threw her snow shawl over her shoulders, and trudged off to school.