Yesterday, my eight third graders took a practice STAAR (State of Texas Assessment for Academic Readiness) math test in preparation for the real test in 25 short school days. All but one of them scored well below the passing benchmark. This is my letter to them.
To my strong, independent, creative, incredibly chatty, but also incredibly collaborative third graders:
I want to apologize in advance for the next twenty-five days of school. In twenty-five school days, you’ll be taking your first real, high-stakes standardized tests, something that you won’t be able to get away from until you are pretty much done with your education.
I want to apologize in advance for the math task cards I’m going to make you do, the reading comprehension cards you will need to answer, and the constant mini-lessons I will be giving you. I want you to do well on this test and feel confident taking it, which is why we will be preparing for it over the next few weeks.
However, this test is nowhere near describing who you are as students or what you are capable of doing as people. As you probably noticed, not a single one of the questions asked you to do six digit by three digit multiplication. None of the questions asked you to explain why the second partial product in a multiplication problem has a zero at the end (place value!). They did not ask you to find the area of your classroom or to solve money word problems.
Moreover, none of the standardized tests you ever take will ask you about that lesson one of you taught on a whim about how to say various numbers and colors in Vietnamese. None of them will ask you about your knowledge of Greek Mythology, the powerpoint you created about which kind of dinosaur would win a duel based on size, teeth, etc., your ability to diagram complex sentences, or about the ten page story you wrote about our classroom guinea pig. None of them will ask you about the book club book you are reading and the connections you make between it and everyday life. They will not ask questions about your ability to read in both Spanish and English. They will not ask you to draw diagrams of the inventions you make from everyday objects at home. They will not care about your knowledge of the interconnectedness of the universe, the fundamental needs of people, and ways to make the world more beautiful. They will never ask you about the things you consistently do to help the younger students in our room.
Last week, during one of our book club groups, one of you picked out your favorite part from the book you are reading and read it out loud to us. The section spoke about a student who struggled in math and did not feel confident on tests. When I asked you why you chose this section, you said it reminded you of your life. Before coming to this school, you did not think you were good at math, but now, on your last report card, it said that you are working “toward grade level” and you feel like you aren’t bad at math anymore. Your identity as a student has changed. No test will ever ask you about that.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry we, as adults, have created a system that does not acknowledge who you are, but instead tries to fit you into boxes, numbers, and scores at such a young age. I am sorry we put so much pressure on you to do well on these tests, rather than trying to make these tests less pressurized in the first place. I am sorry that we compare you to other students your age, in other demographic groups, rather than acknowledging who you are as individuals and the strengths you each carry within yourselves.
I want you to do well on this test because I want you to do well on all the tests you have to take in the future, whether they be for driving, college, medical school, or teaching English in a foreign country. I want you to have every possible success in life, and such successes do often rely on tests. However, I never want you to see yourselves as the sum of your test scores. You all have skills and strengths that will never be acknowledged by any test ever. If you all pass your first standardized test, I will be proud of you. If you all do not pass your first standardized test, I will still be proud of you.
I am so proud to be your teacher. I love each and every one of you.