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At 7 years old, my daughter is an artist. She draws, paints with water colors, uses oil pastels in her "artist sketch book" and is currently planning her very first oil on canvas painting. She's not quite ready to start that painting, she tells me, because she's "still looking for inspiration." Night after night, as I put her brother to bed, she pores through enormous books on Renoir, Impressionism and Monet. She marks her favorite pages and attempts to decipher just how the blank canvasses were transformed into breathtaking works of art. Her questions are endless and we read through the text together, learning and growing with each turn of the page. And then she works. Quietly, and without interruption, she finishes each day hunched over her sketch book creating new works of art based on the inspiration she finds within the pages of the very books that I pored over as a child.
Sadly, this focus, this drive, this interest in art and history… will never show up on a standardized test. If you looked at her report cards, you would make a few assumptions about her. You would think that she loves math and science, that she reads well and that she knows how to write. That's a grossly incomplete picture of my daughter, though. What you wouldn't see is that she is an Irish dancer, a soccer player, an artist and a storyteller. You wouldn't see that she's funny, inquisitive and kind. You wouldn't see that empathy practically oozes from her soul and that she once organized a sweatshirt drive to help victims of Hurricane Sandy stay warm when winter set in.
Test scores and grades might measure aptitude (if you happen to have a good day during the testing period), but they don't measure your worth as a person. They don't tell the complete story.
Barrowford Primary School in Lancashire earned international adoration from parents, teachers and just about everyone else when a mother posted a photograph of a letter sent home to students. The letter accompanied the Key Stage Two test results for Barrowford Primary School, and it included a heartwarming message: "The scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything." The letter has been shared more than 15,000 times on Facebook, and the school is inundated with tweets, messages, email and words of gratitude.
Let kids shine
In a world full of pressure and stress, even the youngest students across the globe feel the urgency to succeed quickly — to find a way to stand out. What standardized tests and grades based on test scores fail to recognize, however, is that all kids are different, and all kids have their own unique talents. It's exceedingly difficult to shine, to stand out as an individual, when the primary focus of education seems to center around aptitude measured by numbers on the page. As much as many parents attempt to shield kids from worrying about the scores, the work put into taking those tests sends a very different message. They know how important those scores are, and they want to know how they measure up.
The Barrowford letter is an important one, and will hopefully inspire other schools to take a similar approach, because it reminds kids, in no uncertain terms, that they are so much more than their test scores indicate. The letter reminds kids that scores don't paint a complete picture, "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."
Hope for parents
If I'm being honest, this letter brought tears to my eyes. As the wife of a musician who carved his own path, and as the mother of two incredibly creative little kids, this letter gives me hope. Teachers are so much more than the scores their students earn, and students learn so much more than the tests even evaluate. Tests don't account for things like test anxiety, illness, learning disabilities or intellectual disabilities. This letter of hope is rapidly making the rounds on social media because all parents see the unique talents in their children, regardless of their test-taking abilities.
Maureen Wallace, mother and writer, agrees. "The sentiments in this letter demonstrate the mindset all schools should have about testing," says Wallace, "and I couldn't love it more." The mother of a child with an intellectual disability, Wallace knows a thing or two about focusing on the unique strengths of each child. "My son has an intellectual disability, and we know school testing will be a huge obstacle," continues Wallace, "but we also know that if he has the right school team — from principal to teachers who have unwavering determination to make inclusion work — we can get through it without denting Charlie's confidence. Test scores will never add to the sum of a person's worth, while demonstrated compassion and empathy are priceless."
A recent study from the Making Caring Common Project at Harvard University shed light on a troubling issue among youth. Although parents might feel like they impart lessons on the importance of being a kind and caring person, what youth hear is that success and achievement are far more important than being kind and caring. Barrowford School got it right when they stated that tests scores "do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best."
It's not that we need to take standardized testing off the table, it's that we need to teach our children the importance of character. We need to make sure that our children understand that they are so much more than those tests can possibly measure, and that being a kind, caring and compassionate person is more important than a perfect score. Scores might get your foot in the door, but your character will get you to the finish line. That's a lesson worth sharing (over and over again).