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What happens when you have a childhood dream to be a writer, but your test scores tell you it's not in the cards?

For Alexandra Penfold, she became a writer anyway — and a successful one at that. Penfold is a literary agent and the author of children's books like "All Are Welcome" and "We Are Brothers, We Are Friends."

In a viral tweet, Penfold shared an image of a self-evaluation she wrote in fourth grade. In scrawling cursive penmanship, it reads: "Writing. I love to write and I hope to become an athor [sic] someday."


Below that image, she shared a photo of her fourth-grade state writing assessment. It shows a score of 4 out of 8 and reads: "This student is minimally proficient in writing."

"This weekend I sorted through some papers my mom saved from my childhood," Penfold wrote. "The top one is my 4th grade self evaluation. The bottom, my 4th grade state test score."

Her final sentence makes an important point: "Random House published my 6th book last week. #MoreThanATest."

Standardized tests don't tell the whole story — and sometimes they tell an inaccurate one.

According to the Center for American Progress, which looked at 14 districts in seven states, some students in the U.S. take as many as 20 standardized tests each year with an average of 10 tests in third to eighth grade. While such assessments may be useful tools in some ways, far too much weight can be placed on them. Some very bright kids simply don't test well. Some skills develop later for some kids — without any effect on the quality of those skills in the long run.

Imagine if Penfold had taken her writing test score as some kind of gospel indicator of her ability. Far too many kids find themselves fretting over test scores, and far too many adults put too much stake in them.

Penfold's tweet reminds us that goals and hard work far outweigh measurable skill or talent.

If you are a parent or teacher of kids who worry about how they perform on standardized tests, show them Penfold's tweet. And then show them some of the responses to it as well. Kids need to hear stories of people who didn't do well on tests or who didn't appear to show great promise in a field they loved, but who ended up triumphing all the same.

For instance, this person who hadn't tested well and "was a clutz in the lab" and whose teacher tried to steer them away from science earned a doctorate in chemistry.

And this person who had tutors her whole life and whose principal told her mother she wouldn't go to college graduated from university with honors and become a published author. As she wrote, "You are the only person that's allowed to define you!"

A person's potential can't be measured in a test score.

A test is a limited method of measuring a limited set of criteria in a limited time period. Let's make sure kids understand that and teach them that what really counts is what they believe they can achieve and how hard they're willing to work. People like Alexandra Penfold prove it.

Photo: Jason DeCrow for United Nations Foundation

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