For many students, teachers, and parents across the country, it's that dreaded time of year: standardized testing time.
:: collective groan ::
While not everyone feels the same about standardized tests, many kids feel a lot of pressure to perform, many parents feel frustrated that they've become such a focus in our education system, and many teachers feel stressed when their teaching skills are evaluated based on their students' test performance.
But while the system might be flawed, there is still something to celebrate this time of year: the loving, dedicated teachers who know just how to put things in perspective.
The teachers at Blue Lake Elementary School in Volusia Country, Florida, wanted their students to know they're more than test scores.
The third-grade teachers at the school felt so strongly about it, in fact, that they got together and composed a letter that they sent home to each and every one of their third-grade students.
Aleshia Crimmons, whose son Christopher is in Rhonda Sylvia's third-grade class at Blue Lake, was brought to tears when she read it. She was so moved that she posted it to her Facebook page and sent a copy to her local news station.
The letter reads (emphasis added):
"My dearest students,
This week you will take your Florida State Assessment (FSA) for Reading and Math. I know how hard you have worked, but there is something important that you must know: The FSA does not assess all of what makes each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you the way I do, and certainly not the way your families do.
They do not know that some of you speak two languages, or that you love to sing or paint a picture. They have not seen your natural and beautiful talent for dancing. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them, that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day, or that your face turns red when you feel shy. They have not heard you tell differences between a King Cobra and a Rattler. They do not know that you 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 despite dealing with bad circumstances, you still come to school with a smile. They do not know that you can tell a great story or that you really love spending time (baking, hunting, mudding, fishing, shopping...) 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 will get from this test will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything. There are many ways of being smart. You are smart! You are enough! You are the light that brightens my day! So while you are preparing for this test and while you are in the midst of it all, remember that there is no way to 'test' all the amazing and awesome things that make you YOU!"
Crimmons wasn't surprised by the letter — she told Upworthy that the teachers at Blue Lake are the best — but she was still moved and impressed.
"We have some amazing kids who need to know and hear everything that was written," she told Upworthy. "Kids need to know that they're different, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with them. We need to teach them to be understanding of each other's differences. That is what makes all of us great."
That message is what so many teachers are imparting up on their students: They're great just the way they are, standardized test scores aside.
Katie Sluiter, an eighth-grade English teacher at a Title 1 school near Grand Rapids, Michigan, stated it quite bluntly: "I hate standardized tests," she told Upworthy. She says it's especially stressful this year because her students are required to take the tests on the computer.
"I don't see my students as test scores at all," she said. While she understands why the state feels standardized tests are necessary and the politicians believe they keep everyone accountable, "they are just hoops. Hoops we jump through each spring rather than do what we should be doing: reading and talking about reading."
Sluiter is confident her students will do the best they can, but she also knows those scores don't reflect the whole story.
"I know some are great test takers and some are lousy test takers. It is what it is," she said. She wants her students to do the best they can on the test, but not to stress over it. Because when the tests are over, what she really wants is for them to "pick up a book and continue with the business of learning."
Her parting words are so important and likely similar to what many teachers feel: "Kids get very stressed because they don't want to let the district down. They feel that if their scores aren't 'good enough,' their teachers will be the ones to suffer (they are right), and that is a lot for those little shoulders," she said.
"I want my students to know I love them no matter what happens that week of testing. It's OK. Really."