|The Transformation Story Archive||Strange Things and other Changes|
Making the Grade
Jake chewed his lip absently as he stared at the test booklet. Damn! Ten pages. What the Hell were they doing giving him a placement exam, anyway? He'd spent the summer making up a failing grade in History so his old high school couldn't hold him back from the Sophomore class again. Then his parents go and stick him in this nowhere private academy, after he'd already started the school year!
Bad enough he was a hundred miles from his friends. The academy didn't allow cars. Or TVs. Or phone calls. A friggin' prison, with blue blazers instead of stripes. Well, he only had to put up with it for two more months. Then he turned 18. And dear old mom and dad couldn't say squat about what he did then. So what if he didn't finish high school? The Marines didn't care if you had a degree or not.
All this was supposed to be for his own good. Right. Like the moldy oldies they had for teachers here would make school any less boring than it had been for the past twelve years. It wasn't that he was stupid or anything. He just didn't like school. Class was a place to daydream or sleep until the final bell signaled freedom. He'd done OK up through junior high. If you didn't make trouble, the teachers would find a way to pass you. But in high school, the stupid teachers set the grade point level and didn't budge. Now he was two years older than his classmates, and if his parents had their way, he'd still be in high school when he was 25!
Some noise from outside drew his attention to the window, and he saw a couple of fellow inmates shouting at each other. This might be fun. It was escalating quickly into punch-throwing level when one of the little kids watching shouted something and they suddenly broke it off. What the Hell did two high-school kids care what some 8 year-old snot had to say?
The scene only made him madder. Like Hell he was gonna stick around this place. Flipping open the booklet, he almost laughed. Basic addition and English. Kindergarten stuff. The next page was harder. Larger numgers, more complicated words. Turning the pages, he realized that the questions were increasingly hard, all the way up to some weird math stuff he figured was calculus. He frowned at the unfamiliar equations, and knew he'd never finish.
Well, they could stuff it. Grinning, he went back and purposely marked wrong answers for every question. As long as he messed it up enough, they'd either have to give him re-tests over and over, or just give up and send him back home. And his parents thought he'd been doing badly before. Maybe a string of all failing marks would make them think twice about sticking him in this Hell-hole.
When he'd finished scribbling on the last page, he got up and dropped the book and what was left of his pencil on the teacher's desk. Her reaction was a bit disappointing. Instead of getting mad, or even showing that anything was out of the ordinary, she simply began marking off the mistakes with red pencil. Oops! He'd gotten one or two right by mistake. Couldn't get a perfect score even when he tried for a zero.
When she was done, she put the booklet aside and opened a manila folder. It had his picture in it, and what he assumed was his records. "Well, Jake. You got a total of 4 correct answers out of 100, which normally would place you in the pre-school section. However, you did spell your name correctly, and knew the date, so basic alphabet and number recognition skills seem to be satisfactory. You will join Mrs. Sanderson's first grade class tomorrow morning. On a trial basis."
He stared at her for a moment, and then laughed. "Oh, yeah. Right. You're gonna stick me in with some snot-nosed little kids?" He sneered at her. "Look lady. I gotta stay here until I am 18. But I don't gotta play by your rules." He pulled off the new blazer and threw it on the ground. "I've had 12 years of school and I'm sick of it. So you might as well call my parents and tell them I flunked out of your precious academy."
The woman simply smiled. "We don't have any failures here, Jake. That's why we have the placement exam. You'll be allowed to take it once a year. When you are able to complete the exam with no errors, you graduate. Until then, your yearly performance evaluation will determine which grade you should be in. This year, you will be in the First Grade."
Jake started to laugh again, but stopped when he realized she was serious. "You're a real nut case, you know that, lady? What did my parents do? Lock me up in the funny farm?"
She shook her head and shrugged, and then stamped the top of his exam booklet with 'GRADE 1.' He jumped as the rubber pad slammed against the paper, startled by the noise. It seemed to echo around him, pounding physically at his body. Bewildered, he swatted at the air, but found nothing.
Except that the pressure was increasing. "What's happening?!" His voice cracked in panic. Staggering back, he fell against a desk and then ran for the door. "Make it stop!" The teacher remained seated, watching him calmly.
He couldn't get the door open. Pounding on it, he screamed at her. "Open this up, you bitch!" His voice cracked again, this time staying in the higher register. The handle suddenly freed up, and he almost fell into the hallway. It felt like his whole body was in a vise which crushed at him in all directions. He saw a boy's restroom, and stumbled towards it. A couple of junior high age kids moved out of his way, but didn't show any concern.
Jake made it to the sink and grabbed the edge of the porcelain. And then the pressure was almost forgotten when he looked into the mirror. The disheveled boy reflected back at him was barely in his teens. Still tall, but now thin and gawky. Then not so tall as the pressure squashed him back another year or two. "No!" His wail was that of a young boy, voice matching his shrinking figure. Clothing dwindled with him, somehow becoming neater with each alteration.
The sink rose up in front of him, blocking more of his view. A replay of his sixth-grade picture seemed to accelerate the process, and he gasped as the floor spread out under his polished black shoes. The placement test! Somehow, they were changing his age to match the test results! Jake screamed and pounded on the sink as he watched the little boy in the mirror lose front teeth. The tangled mass of his hair drew inward, becoming the near-crew cut which all of the other boys sported. A year before he could take the test again! A year as a first grader! They couldn't mean that! He knew lots of stuff from school. Like math! He could do Fractions, and Algebra…
Or could he? The pressure was easing up now, but Jake discovered a new source of horror. Try as he might, he couldn't remember what Algebra was. And words seemed to have vanished from his vocabulary. Staring at the freckle-faced, immaculate 6 year-old in the mirror, Jake finally understood the incentive that this school offered. He remember being older. His whole life was still there. All that was missing was the education he should have had. Knowledge had been stripped along with the years. He was going to have to relearn everything again. And this time, he'd always be with the proper age group no matter how many times he failed. From now on, he was truly making his own grade.
Making the Grade copyright 1997 by Bob Stein.
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