An Open Letter to My Students: I Am Sorry For What I Am About To Do To You

To all of my precious students,

I am sorry for what I am about to do to you.

This week, I am going to have to give you a new test. It’s called PARCC. There will be five separate tests, on four separate days, and my guess is that most of you will hate them.  My guess is that one or two of you will be brought to tears because they will make you feel like you are not smart enough.  My guess is that several of you will give up part way through the test and just start clicking around on the screen. My guess is that some of you will look around at the students sitting next to you to try and figure out if they are also as confused as you are in the hopes of knowing that you are not the only way feeling this way.  My guess is that more than a handful of you will, at some time during the test, ask me to come over and help you with something and I will not be able to. My guess is that almost all of you will wonder what these tests have to do with the learning and growing that we are doing every day in our classroom because you know that our learning has meaning and purpose in this world and you cannot figure out how these tests could possibly do that.  My guess is that all of you will wonder why I am making you take these tests.

And the answer is simple.  I have to.  Our state and federal government say that I have to give these tests to you. That you must take them. And I need you to know how very sorry I am about that.

I have no control over this. I have no control over whether or not I give you this test. But, like I always tell you, I do have complete control over my own thoughts and my own words. So here is what I need to say to you.

I do not agree that these tests will tell me what I really need to know about you as a learner or as a human being.  I do not agree that these tests will make me a better teacher.  I do not agree that these tests will improve our schools. I do not agree that you need to sit in front of a computer for over five hours in order for the government to find out what you know and what you can do. I do not agree that you should not have a choice in how you are able to show all of the things that you are capable of doing. I do not agree that in order for the state to know that I am doing my job that you have to suffer through tests that could quite possibly ruin much of the hard work that we have done together in building your confidence this year and in helping you to see yourselves as readers and writers.  I do not agree with these tests.

And even more than I want you to know all of that, I want you to know that these tests will never tell you who you are.  They will never be able to show all of your various, beautiful and wondrous strengths.  They will never be able to show all of the things that you have learned this year.  They will never be able to show some of the most important things about who you all are.  Because these tests will not show your humanity.

They will not show how you have learned to see this world through empathetic eyes.  They will not show how you have learned to choose ways to present your knowledge so that you can use your individual strengths. They will not show how you have learned to collaborate with your classmates and with students around the world. They will not show how you have learned to listen first and then speak.  They will not show how you have learned to do good things for this world. They will not show how you have grown as people. These tests will never be able to show those things and please believe me when I tell you that those are the things that truly matter in this world.

So if, and when, you struggle with these tests. If, and when, you start to think that these tests are telling you that you are not smart. If, and when, you start to believe that maybe you aren’t really good enough. If, and when, you start to feel like you want to cry because you just don’t know what these tests are really asking. Sit back. Take a deep breath. And then remember what you know.  Remember what you know about what is really important in this world. Remember what you know about how brilliant you all are.

And if you can’t remember. If these tests are bad enough that they make you forget. Then you raise your hand. And I will come over. And I will take one look at your face. And I will see what is going on. And I will remind you. I will remind you that you are a reader and that you are a writer and that you are worthy just because you are exactly who you are. I will remind you of all the things that I have seen you do this year. I will remind you of all the meaningful work that you have added to our world this year.  I will remind you of how far you have come. I will remind you of what you do for me, and for our classroom, and for this world. Every. Single. Day.

And then. Even though I am not supposed to. I will probably sneak you a piece of chocolate. And I will try to make you laugh. Because at the end of the day, these tests have no real meaning for you. And at the end of this week, we get to go back to the work that is really important. And at the end of the year, what you will look back on and remember will not be these tests, but all of the learning and growing that you have done this year.

So please forgive me. Please know that by giving you these tests I feel as if I am an accomplice in something that feels dirty and wrong. Please know that I value you more than this test. Please know that you are more than this test. And please know that as soon as this week is over, we will get back to our regularly scheduled learning.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Lifshitz

85 thoughts on “An Open Letter to My Students: I Am Sorry For What I Am About To Do To You

  1. I cried even though I know my child will not be a part of the madness since we are refusing the tests. I cried for those who will be. REUSE THE TESTS PARENTS!!! It’s not too late!!!

  2. Bravo! Thank you for what you do for your students. Even though your hands are tied, us as parents to have the ability to say something without risking getting fired. Refuse the test!

  3. Gosh, I wish soo many more teachers had guts like you! I wish teachers would share their opinions and views on standardized testing and what it has done and will do to our kids. God bless you!

    • Flo, there are many, many teachers who have “guts” and express frustration with these tests. You should not make this about the teachers. The whole point of the letter is to say that she has no choice but to give the tests. Regardless of whether or not teachers say anything, the tests will be given. There are only two ways to make this change–get more parents to opt out of testing for their children, and write letters to government officials urging them to change the testing policies.

  4. I had to go thru standardized tests when I was a kid and they did nothing but made me fell stupid and inadequate. None of those tests measured in anyway the kind of human being I turned out to be. I wish there were more teachers like you. Every time that a teacher tells me that my son cant do this or that because he is below in score in the test. I always say yes he can with a smile. I remind them that those tests mean nothing to me I failed most of them when I was a kid and I became a college graduate and a professional. The standard doesn’t apply to everyone I’m living proof… 🙂

  5. Beautiful. Thank you so much for writing this. I read most of it to my 4th grade girl who has severe anxiety around school/timed testing. Your warmth and kindness shine through your words. Your students are fortunate to have you as their teacher.

  6. I have told my children that these tests mean nothing in regards to who they are, I know it, their teachers know it and they should know it. Wonderful letter!

  7. Well said! I wish there were more teachers like you out there! I totally disagree with this testing and my heart breaks for my kids. I DOD NOT KNOW that I could refuse it! I’m going to look into it. Kids have a rough enough time at schools without the added pressure these tests are causing. My daughter doesn’t even want to go to school during the testing and has sat and cried over it. I will read this letter to her. Thank you for writing this!!

  8. Hey 🙂

    This is a very timely and thought-provoking article. Would you mind if we featured this on Kindness Blog and links back to you etc? No problems if not though 🙂

    Thank you.

    Best, Mike.

  9. Wow, what timing. My son is taking the MME (Michigan Merit Exam) / ACT this week and I know he’s feeling all of the things you described. He is a non-traditional learner with fine motor skill issues that make it difficult for him to produce work quickly. He’s a smart kid. It just takes him longer to show people what he knows. Thankfully I’m in a district that, for the most part, has helped him cope with this.

  10. Well Said!!! As parents we can take a stand against these test. But you must have the courage to stand up and say NO. If we all stood up against the federal government telling us how to raise and educate our children we could stop this waste of our tax dollars and really educate our children. Can you imagine what our teachers could do in the classrooms if the billions of dollars the feds spent on these worthless test where put in their hands…..

  11. There was something an author by the name of Derrick Jensen said about the nazi concentration camp doctors. He said that the doctors did everything in their power to make the inmates feel comfortable, even going so far as to kill terminally ill patients to end their suffering and so that disease wouldn’t spread and infect the others, but never once did they question why the inmates were there in the first place..Could we be repeating this on a lesser scale with schooling and tests?

  12. “By giving you these tests I feel as if I am an accomplice in something that feels dirty and wrong.” I can relate to the frustration in this post, having been a high school teacher earlier in my career. With that in mind, allow me to suggest that there might be a reason for feeling like an accomplice. Yes, there are a great many deeply caring, dedicated people in the system, but the more these people go along with things they know are wrong, the more they perpetuate unnecessary suffering. That’s why I got out and found my way to Sudbury schools like Alpine Valley School (http://alpinevalleyschool.com). I urge all the parents and professionals reading this to check out the Sudbury model, which treats kids as innately driven, curious, and creative individuals worthy of respect.

  13. Thank, Jess. Well done. Sooner or later we’ll all agree to stop the madness. I just wish it would be sooner.

  14. Great letter, but there is something teachers can do to rid our schools of this menace. WALK OUT, BOYCOTT, Do not administer the test. If the teachers around the states and country would unite and walk out, it would be noticed almost immediately. If this was a major contract dispute and the union said strike, you would strike. There is no difference. The union might protect your pay and benefits, but we, the taxpayers, supply those funds. Please teachers UNITE and fight this menace with us the parents.

  15. I understand the frustration of parents and I have four children myself. The letter is beautifully written but am I the only parent alive who thinks my kids will get through this and be ok? Yes, they may feel uncomfortable and even be upset, but I believe that they will not be scarred for life. I respect the opinion of those who think this test will be damaging but most of us had standardized tests when were younger and we got through it. Life is full challenges and I wish the test did not exist, but I believe most of our children will be able to move forward after taking this test.

    • Take the test practice for third grade and see what you think. Will they be fine? Yes. Not what it’s about. It’s about making a test that is actually at the grade level it suggests. It’s about letting educators TALK to students during the test. We are not allowed to look at a student’s computer screen during the test. We should not know one test question. Where is the transparency? My students have taken tests each year and survive. But this my friend is an entirely new ballgame. It’s not developmentally appropriate for the youngest of kids. Most adults would not pass this test. As an educator… I DID NOT have the endurance to finish the third grade reading test in Illinois. I have THREE college degrees. Will they survive? Yes. Does that make it right?

  16. The real point here is that Pearson makes the test so difficult that many students fail. This panics teachers and administrators so they buy new curriculum materials from ……. You guessed it …… PEARSON!

  17. I understand your point but villanizing a practice test that means nothing right now seems unproductive for students. Why not explain the pilot nature of it and encourage them to provide feedback to effect change? Testing is testing. It won’t go away, and apologizing for “doing this” to them raises anxiety as well, doesn’t it?

  18. Patrick…I respect your opinion but many of “us teachers” are also parents. It is not a world divided…we ALL want the best for our kids. Our jobs provide our children with a house, a car, food, etc. There are consequences if we chose to strike or walk out over this test or any of the other disheartening things that we face. There are also many people waiting in the wings to replace each and every one of us. Refusing to test or walking out would do nothing other than put us on the unemployment line….and someone else would still administer the test.

  19. Beautifully written. I’m a special ed teacher and hate the frustration these tests cause my students. Just doing the practice tests takes a toll on them. Thanks for this.

  20. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but you have just changed my life and told me something that I will never forget. I know the test mentioned was the parcc test, but I have literally just finished taking my ACT’s. I was confused for the majority of the time, and wondering if my peers and family would look down upon me if I failed them completely.
    I have a chronic Illness called dysautonomia, and it causes me to have “brain fog” (not enough oxygen getting to my brain causes me to have difficulty thinking appropriately). I also started to get very sick during the test, but said nothing while my heart rate was 170+, because I had been told how important this test was.
    I have been feeling terrible because I was so scared I failed this state test, and that somewhere in the process I lowered my self worth by doing so.
    Then I read this beautiful peice. It brought me to tears. This is something that I really needed to hear. Thank you so much for being wonderful, and opening my eyes to the fact that these tests do not define me. 💜

  21. This makes me afraid to have children if this is going to be their future. =( I feel awful for the teachers who are forced to give these tests. We live in horrid, frightening times.

  22. Time to grow up. You are acting like you are sending these kids to the edge of a cliff. No, the tests aren’t ideal, but it’s part of the system right now by which we are trying to hold all parties accountable in education. There are no easy answers. But, your post acting like the data provided by some of the test are worthless is misleading. Yes, the PARCC is new and has kinks to be worked out. And hopefully they will. But, let’s not throw in the towel from day one. The whole post is way too dramatic. My kids came home and said the PARCC was fine, didn’t bat an eye. Let’s try whatever we have to to get the best data to figure out what’s working and what’s not. Our kids’ lives depend on it.

  23. I think that many of the ‘reasons’ or ‘apologies’ for having to give the test are not at all related to the test. Is it possible that the ‘objections’ are related to the attempts to privatize education and reduce the influence of public education? I’m just wondering.

  24. Pingback: Wish all teachers felt this way… | Copious Cline Clan

  25. Pingback: An Open Letter to My Students: I Am Sorry For What I Am About To Do To You | Ashley Henley for Mississippi House District 40

  26. Great points!! Thank you for speaking up. I also have to administer PARCC and it has accomplished nothing other than causing anxiety and frustration for both students and teachers.

  27. It would be nice if the computer could tailor the test to the students skill level like a hearing test. When you take a hearing test they start by making loud noises (easy questions) that gradually get quieter (harder questions). As soon as the child doesn’t hear a tone they get louder again, then quieter, then louder. The end result is you have a very accurate idea of how well someone can hear without them feeling like they got anything wrong. I don’t see why a computer couldn’t figure out as the questions got harder that the child doesn’t understand a concept and it could move on. Then the child wouldn’t burn out with the frustration of getting a bulk of the questions wrong and feeling like they’re dumb. I mean, come on, it’s a computer, it should be able to work like this no problem.

  28. Principals, superintendents, administrators, and to an unfortunate degree legislators look to the past. Their interest lies in knowing that the students meet a prescribed minimum (god I hate that word) level of knowledge. Fear and punishment drives these tests because “failure” is punished, not corrected.

    Educators (true educators) look to the future. Sure they want to know that the students have, at least, achieved an understanding, if not mastery, of the materials presented. But more important, they stand at the edge with their toes hanging over and the wind whipping around them. And they bring their students to that edge. And together they step over into the next unknown. Because that’s where true learning takes place.

    For an educator, test provide two important pieces of information. First it tells the educator that the information has been passed on adequately. It also tells the educator where the boundary is. If students consistently get 100’s on their tests then the tests aren’t giving you enough information.

    And students and parents need to be made to understand (and this was sorely lacking in my early education) that at some level failure, or at least not hitting perfection, isn’t a shame. It’s where true leaning begins. Many of the greatest advances in our knowledge began with failure. If you haven’t failed at some time in you life, you haven’t tried hard enough.

    • I don’t think failure is the complaint as much as “epic” failure. Like when someone is so ill prepared for the test it is almost laughable that they are forced to take it.

  29. It seems so many teachers feel this way — why not reject this test? Take a stand against it. Parents will stand with you.

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