My Dear Students,
I am still out on maternity leave, but even from home, I know that we are in testing season and that testing season can be so very stressful. You see, all year your teachers have been doing their best to prepare you for all kinds of things: the next grade level, life in general, and end of year STAAR tests. We are stressed too. Not so much worried that you won’t pass, but worried about the toll the stress has taken on you and on your learning. We are expected to teach you one way, but test another. How fair is that? I’m going to let you in on a little secret though: those tests scores in no way define your aptitude as a student or your worth as a person. They are incapable of painting an accurate picture of who you are and what you can do. They are also incapable of understanding your unique life, your unique struggles, your unique self.
For example, there’s no way a STAAR scorer can tell that you did not eat for the whole weekend. Or that you never feel safe in your own home because someone there hurts you. They only see a blank page–meaning, of course, that you didn’t learn. Really, it means that not writing a single word on your paper represents the only thing you get to control. For once, no one told you what to do or could force you to work.
There’s no way that STAAR scorer can tell that you feel miserable and have used about 90 tissues in the first 15 minutes. That you barely see the test through watering eyes and the fog of medication. That you sleep on a ratty recliner, one probably found abandoned in the rain. All night you have fought off creatures who have made it, and you, their home. But you are present, taking the test, because it’s “important”.
There’s no way for that scorer to know that your home is being ripped apart. The very next day you will be taken away from everything you know. “Don’t worry, she’ll be there for STAAR,” your frazzled mom says in an email.
There’s no way for that scorer to know that you just returned home from a trip across the country to visit a neurologist. Desperately, your family and doctors try to lessen your autism symptoms with experimental trials and injections straight into your brain.
There’s no way for that scorer to know that you have read the entire graphic novel section of the library this year, but that their boring and picture-less blocks of text are hard for you to focus on and become interested in.
There’s no way for that STAAR scorer to know that despite your writer’s block on the day of the test, you have written beautiful poetry and vibrant stories all year long. Today’s topic just doesn’t spark your interest and you’re having a hard time deciding what to write about, so you don’t get much down on the paper.
There’s no way for them to know what a talented artist, musician, athlete you are. They are looking at one thing you did one day.
We know some of you are just poor test takers (and that’s okay!) We know some of you have severe testing anxiety (I’m so sorry you have to worry about this at such a young age). Some of you didn’t have a great breakfast or didn’t get very much sleep. No matter who you are, you might see the daunting packet and freshly sharpened #2 pencils and stare at blank walls and listen to your robot teachers who cannot even smile or give an encouraging word. You might freeze. And there’s nothing I can do to unfreeze you.
As your teacher, I try to shake off the stress of testing season by focusing on those single moments that make teaching such a special profession. Like the one time you said, “Thank you for teaching me today.” Or when you told me you had transformed into a better reader because now you could understand Harry Potter books without feeling defeated. I’ll never forget the time you changed your disruptive behavior because a friend asked you to and then when he sent a compliment via text when you improved. Or when your mom cried in a conference reading your beautiful and poetic writing, despite your dyslexia diagnosis and your belief that you “can’t write”. Or the time you offered to buddy up with a physically disabled student because your brother has Down’s Syndrome and you can empathize with him. Or all the times your writing completely blew me away because without it, I would have never known how certain books or experiences affected you. Thank you for these moments; they keep me going.
In a short ten months, I have spent more time with you than I can even quantify. I taught you, wrote to you, agonized over you, prayed for you, listened to you, and loved you like you were my own. I know who you are and what you can do. I know what sports you play, your favorite books, the special way you dot your “i”s. So, please, don’t let a test score define your sense of success. You are so much more than that. You are singers, painters, engineers, dreamers, and encouragers. It’s just one day, my friends. Do your best, but know that ultimately this test cannot and does not define you.
Love, your 4th grade teacher
Currently Reading: Your Special Gift by Max Lucado. My three year old is obsessed with all the Punchinello books right now and this one has been her bedtime choice for a few nights in a row. My favorite line reads: “Do the most of what you do the best.” It got me thinking about how we all possess gifts that we should use to make life better for us and those we love. Sometimes it’s hard to define what gifts we have, but I think it’s definitely worth a thought.
Currently Baking: Soft and Chewy Double Chocolate Cookies, from PaleOMG (link), who is hilarious and also amazing at coming up with fun ways to treat yo-self but also stay *mostly* paleo, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Currently Singing: “Forever” by Kari Jobe, ever since Easter Sunday. “The ground began to shake/the stone was rolled away/your perfect love could not be overcome/Now death where is your sting?/Our resurrected King/has rendered you defeated!” Such hope in these words.
Thanks for reading and until next time, peace and love from my household to yours.
2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to My Students (Past and Present) on Standardized Testing”
Oh my gosh, you left me teary. SO MUCH THIS. I still have kids I think about all the time, years later. Some I have the privilege of keeping up with on Facebook, and some I don’t — but oh man… I share so much sentiment of what you shared here. ❤
I’m glad you enjoyed it! It is sometimes a heartbreaking thing to be a teacher 😔