An Open Letter to My Students About Standardized Tests

Dear Students,

In a few days you’re going to take a standardized test known currently as a Common Exam (or MSL, which sounds like missile).  The test will include both multiple-choice questions and “constructed response” which in my day was called “short-answer.”  It will cover a wide-range of topics that you have studied this year and although you will struggle with questions and sections, I’m confident that you will think critically, analyze, evaluate and use all the tools in your arsenal to succeed in doing your very best.

Unfortunately, it expects you to see the world through multiple-choice answers.  You will “choose the best answer” between A, B, C, and D.  You will not be able to show the argument skills you sharpened in the debates you had this semester, or the discussion skills you refined in my classroom to become deep-thinkers who can not only answer a question, but prove that answer with textual evidence and proper argument or informative writing.  You will be expected to read, read, read and then answer, answer, answer.  There won’t be time to show the test administrators the talent you have at thinking around, outside, behind, above, (all the prepositions that you learned) the box, or the bravery it took you to write a complete paragraph with capital letters, perfectly placed commas, and quotation marks around each little detail that you found to prove your answer.

I know you will do your best because I’ve taught the best students at this school this semester.  I know you will do your best because you’ve shown me nothing but that on most days you’ve been in my classroom.  You’ve fought through being kicked out of your houses, friend drama, losing high-stake’s sports games, bad reputations, the rudeness of your peers against your idea of funny or smart, the possibly low expectations for students of this county and other student’s wild ideas about who you are or what you are, when they have no idea that you’re a hero, you’re a winner, you’re the breath of fresh air in my room every single school day.   I have high expectations that you will do your best, will be scored not by a number, or a percentage, but by the amount of heart you give.

This is a test in the grand scheme of your life.  It does not define you.  No one in this school can define you.  It is not an indicator of how you could survive in the wild, if you could be clever enough to escape a Cyclops, if you could lead a group of teenagers to freedom from a deserted island unharmed, or whether or not you would stand up for a man on trial even if the whole town was against him.  This doesn’t show how often you stand-up for other students, how often you convince your friends not to drop out, or not to fight, or how often you make someone’s day by just being yourself.  You are something beautiful and something unique.

I don’t want you to stress over whether your pencil is sharpened enough, or how to highlight on a PDF because you’ve never seen a computer test before, or how long it will take you to read a passage.  When you grow up the world won’t yet know it has been waiting for the type of brilliance you will bring to it.  You will “walk into it, shake it out, fingertips trembling though they may be.”

These things may be true about you: you may not be a good test-taker, you may not know the “best answer” but you know that A and C are definitely not correct, you may not know how to define “essential” or “significant” in the context of the question, but you must know that I will not look at your test scores and say “I am disappointed.”  I will look at each score and see that you thought about each answer, you analyzed, you created essential questions in your head, you used textual evidence, and you showed global awareness.  This test is also just one way that they will define my teaching competency.  I am not worried about this in the least.  I am confident in your abilities and you have proven time and time again that I should be proud to have you day in and day out.

In four years, I will watch each of you walk across the stage in a cap and gown.  I will look for you on “nerd day” and write recommendations for your college applications, military applications, or job applications.  I will be the proudest teacher and it will be my honor to shake your hand.

Thank you,

Ms. Mannes

26 thoughts on “An Open Letter to My Students About Standardized Tests

  1. Michelle Nichols says:

    I’m such a dweeb. This just made me cry lol. I’m turning into my mothers daughter. I wish you had been one of my teachers growing up…. :)

    • Cassie says:

      Aw, you are so not a dweeb. I’m so my mothers daughter…down to owning far too many striped shirt. We had a lot of the same teachers and I was talking with my mom the other day and telling her how I never talked to my teachers about personal things and she reminded me that students like us didn’t need to because we had wonderful families. :)

  2. lucysfootball says:

    This is so beautiful. They are so lucky to have you as their teacher. You’ve made all of their lives so much richer this year. I wish every student had a teacher like you; the world would be so much better for it.

    • Cassie says:

      Aw, you’re wonderful. Thank you :) I just hope they remind themselves what I’m saying and they don’t stress out on test day. I also need to buy a ton of granola bars so I know they’ve eaten breakfast. Bahhhh!

  3. Bea says:

    Proud Mother here! I am proud, not because of what you wrote, but for the meaning behind it, the way you care for your students, and how you can see all the wonderful people they may come to be. Keep their expectations high. Let them see all the different opportunities in their futures, push them forward, and just keep being yourself.

      • Ron says:

        I was impressed with this letter to your students, and I hope they get a chance to see it. The video attached is great, but don’t share it with the students, there is some strong language, and I don’t want you fired! LOL!………as typed by Ron”s personal secretary.

  4. cookiejarprincess says:

    Everyone has that special teacher. The one that sparked something in them that no one else ever reached.

    I have two; my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Sanders (who was also a photographer and a chimney sweep), and my sixth grade English teacher, Mrs. Hamilton, who encouraged my passion for mythology, reading, and learning in general.

    One day, many years down the road, a 30-something man or woman will be having a conversation with a friend or a spouse or their child and they will be talking about that one, special teacher. And it will be you.

  5. suth2 says:

    Wow! Your students sure have been lucky to have you as their teacher. You obviously do a fantastic job. I’m sure your students have appreciated the work you have put in. The rewards in teaching cannot be measured but from within. I hope you continue to teach and don’t get drawn away by some other profession.

    • Cassie says:

      I have really loved it this year. I just hope I know when it’s time to take a year off or when I’m burnt out. Even though I hope that never happens.

    • Cassie says:

      This is true! I saw a released version and they had to create a presentation and it was a four day long test filled with analysis and critical thinking. Everything but the time It takes looks hopeful.

    • Cassie says:

      I was one of those students who could prove I knew it all through discussing, but could not for the life of me do well on tests. So, I feel the same way!

  6. epiphanyhuffman says:

    Cassie! You are the dream teacher that inspires great things…you’re the new Mr. Miles! I had walked away from blogging for a long bit (lame, I know) but I’m so glad I just happened to re-follow you through my new WP account on the 19th in time to get this post in my inbox–it made my day! I hope you’re well :)

    • Cassie says:

      Aw, thank you so much dear. I’m definitely going to hop on over to your blog now. When I come home on some weekend this summer, we should get tea or coffee. Yes? Miss you and want to see your curly locks.

      • epiphanyhuffman says:

        I would LOVE to get coffee or tea with you! Perhaps Jubala on Falls of the Neuse? It’s my favorite spot on the weekends (my coffee shop is only open M-F). Speaking of, I’d love for you to see it sometime! It’s a darling little place that I think you’d love. :)

  7. Cassie says:

    That would be absolutely wonderful. : ) I have never been to Jubala, but I am always up for trying new places. You just never know when you’ll fall in love.


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