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The Scores Will Not Tell You Everything

Here’s a story that inspires me. It’s a story involving adults who truly care about children, as all of us should. But first, a little context.

There are lots of things wrong with our national mania for high-stakes standardized testing in the public schools. One of the worst is the way it makes some kids feel like “losers” when they are very young. It’s a tragedy that’s reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., and it’s going to cost this country dearly before it’s over.

Some folks are working hard on a political fix for this mess. Meanwhile, many educators are doing their best to protect kids against the worst consequences of high-stakes testing. I found an example recently in an email my wife received from a friend.

This message originated with a group of principals from several districts, who worked together to write it and get it out. They want to remain anonymous so that any attention the message receives will focus on children and their needs, not on praise for the principals. They hope that other educators will convey a similar message to the children in their care. An edited excerpt is below; please share it with all teachers, principals, and school superintendents who are within your reach!

“My daughter’s new elementary school principal sent this message to all students as they received their state standardized test scores:

‘We are concerned that these tests do not assess all of what it is that makes each of you unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do. They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day. They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school. They do not know that you have traveled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends. They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best. The scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything. There are many ways of being smart.’

My daughter, who did well on the test, shrugged about her scores, but read the letter over and over and held it close to her heart announcing, ‘I really love this.'”

As a bonus, I’m posting a great Billy Collins poem to remind us how vulnerable children are, as some of us well-remember:

On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light—
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

(Excerpted from The Art of Drowning. Read the full poem here.)

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