In one letter, a teacher sums up what test scores can't.

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.

Photo via iStock.

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.

Photo belongs to Aleshia Crimmons, shared here with permission.

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.

Photo via iStock.

"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."

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

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