Be the change, being a teacher, being me

What the Test Didn’t Care About

Dear Theadora,

Today you told me you were stupid.  That you couldn’t even read the stupid test.  That you knew you failed and so you gave up.  That you will never be a reader.  Again.

And I looked at you and I asked if you needed a hug.  As you crept into my arms, there was so much I wanted to tell you and like your bumbling mother I tried.

I told you to remember that you are not a stupid test.

That you are not a correct answer.  Or an incorrect one for that matter.

That you are not just a level, a piece of data, an insignificant number determined by a profit-making entity.  You will never be just a J.

That you are not stupid.

That you are not failing.

But that you are smart.

That you are brave.

That you are a reader.

Because what the test didn’t care about is that we see you read.  We see you listen.  We see you choose a book and make your way through the pages, even when the words don’t make sense.

We see you ask to go to the library and please can I have one more book?

We see you read to your siblings, to ask for just one more page, to tell me everything that has happened in the Lightning Thief since I last drove the car.

We see you try, We see you fight for the words at times, and other times, they come so easily.

What the test doesn’t care about is how far you have come.  How you know all of the strategies but when you know you are getting the answers wrong it doesn’t matter what you were taught because all you can think about is how you know you are wrong and now the rest of the world knows it too.  How does anyone face that as a child?

What the test doesn’t care about is how much you love reading.  How much your teachers work hard to protect it.  How much being a reader, one that reads chapter books, means to you.  Which is why you keep trying every single day, every single time.

So when we look at the data, dear Thea, I wish it told the full story.  That it actually showed us what we needed to know.  Not just a level.  Not just a score.  Not just the incorrect or the time spent struggling.  Not just the suggested lessons or the gaps in your skills.

I wish it knew you.  No test ever will.  That is why we are so thankful for your teachers.

But I can tell you now, and you have to believe this loudly.  You have to believe this proudly.  You have always been a reader.  You will always be a reader.  Nothing will change that if you don’t let it.  So don’t let it.





9 thoughts on “What the Test Didn’t Care About”

  1. So beautiful. I wanted to write a letter like this today to my 14 year old… I might do it privately for her. It’s heartbreaking to see your child feel like a failure. Thank you for writing this.

  2. I am a Special Needs teacher and at the end of Year 1, my daughter was still struggling to blend letters together. We are a family of readers with literally thousands of books on our shelves at home (and more on Kindle). Like your daughter, my girl loved books. I tried not to panic and kept making the reading experience a joyful one. During Year 2, her teacher told her about the ladder of learning and this resonated with her. When we went shopping, she chose a chapter book and read the blurb to me slowly and hesitantly, to show that she could read it. She stated that she wanted to move up the ladder of learning. During Year 2 she took off and gained 7 reading levels (each level equivalent to one year’s work) by the end of the year.
    So, don’t give up and panic. The test is a guide, not set in stone or 100% accurate. Don’t go down the flash card route, just keep inspiring her to love books. After all, at the moment she is a reader who can’t work out all of the words. It will click with her – just hang in there!

  3. Wow! I could literally change your daughter’s name to my own daughter’s name and have it fit. These are the words I speak to my sweet, loving, more-than-a-test 7th grader. So eloquently put!

  4. As I’ve commented before here, my son went through very similar things. Although he quit trying to read for enjoyment by the time he was Thea’s age, he let me read to him, which I did every night through 8th grade. I believe that helped tons! It took the pressure off of him and he could just enjoy novels. He developed awesome listening comprehension. He did not read on his own for enjoyment ever, but he was still reaping the benefits of reading through our read alouds. At 16, almost 17, he started reading adult books about Navy Seals and other military stories. He’s developed this desire to serve his country, which scares the crap out of me, but I’ve had to laugh at the irony that it has gotten him to read when I had given up on this. We always went to the library when he was younger, but suddenly he’s going on his own now and finding his own books. After 3 big books about the military, he found an adult fantasy series and is almost done with it. The joy this has given me is indescribable! Never give up!

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