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.


Mrs. Lifshitz


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

  1. Pingback: Parents: Educate Yourself about PARCC | rereschu

  2. WOW!!! I LOVE Teacher Lifschitz!! and I need tissues… someone pass me a few? I am going to ENJOY this cry, because I know in a few minutes it will turn to burning anger. My heart will not harden with the anger, though. It will stay in the place Mrs. Lifschitz has led it to. And with that heart I will renew my vow to continue standing up for everything she says with every bit of energy I have to give.

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  4. WOW!!!!! What a beautiful letter, I actually have tears in my eyes. Thinking of when I spoke to my daughter about opting her out and what she said, “Thank you mama, I get nervous when I take big tests”. I’m reading this letter to her tonight. Thank you!!!!!!

  5. My very bright daughter came home from 8th grade today and told me that she “failed” the test and was almost crying beacause although she has had geometry all year and received A’s every quarter, she didn’t know how to to answer the questions about geometry on the test. This was a devastating blow to her confidence, and for what purpose? I will have to spend a lot of time reassuring my daughter that the PARCC is not a measure of her worth or her intelligence. Thank you for this letter – I will be sharing it with Ava.

  6. The thing is kids DO NOT have to take them parents can refuse the testing for their child truth of the matter, yes govt says they must be given but parents can opt their kids out many parents do not know this critical fact

  7. THANK YOU! Thank you, thank you. As a fellow teacher and fellow test-giver, I appreciate these sentiments and wish I could share them with my students. I am so terrified of repercussions or being black listed that instead, I will just take your words to heart and try to practice what you preach when I administer 4 benchmark tests in 4 days next week.
    Thank you for giving me the voice I am scared to use.

  8. Thank you for writing this beautiful letter! My students take a different state test but the results are the same.
    I just went to a training that suggested we take several days to teach our students how to use the program format that the test is given in. Some teachers in my building will have to take 15 days or more to prepare students for the test and to take the test. This is three weeks that these students do not get to learn the material that they need to learn.
    Another component…I work at a high school… if students do not pass the test…. they do not graduate…
    We really do need people that actually know something about education making the rules for educators!

  9. Dear Mrs. Lifshitz,
    Your letter made me laugh and cry. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing it and please know I will be praying for you and all the teachers who will have to endure this.
    You are an amazing teacher and an amazing human being. Thank you…
    Iain and Macey’s Mom xx

  10. I have never given one of the tests for the state because I have only taught Kinder-Second. I do feel bad for both the students that have to take the tests and the younger students for having to tip toe through the school in order to not disturb the older classes. It’s wrong in every way. I always rejoiced for my younger students, they still have the opportunity to learn and not feel that horrible feeling that they are failures for not knowing the answers. Things need to change and soon!!

  11. I am a parochial school teacher administering the IOWA test this month. Sure, it’s not my favorite thing to do, and sure it’s frustrating that the students have to be tested on things we haven’t covered yet because it’s only March and I still have plenty to teach until June. However, I tell the students to think, take their time, rule out unlikely answers, and just do their best. Some will excel, while others will struggle, but such is life. I didn’t cave under the pressure of testing, and my students won’t if I help them have a positive attitude toward testing to see where they stand right now in their learning. If parents and teachers wring their hands and lament, what are children to think? I know I’m a skilled teacher, so bring on the tests and let my students show what they know! They have a lot of testing to experience in life, right through SAT, MCAT, GRE, etc as they progress through school. Instead of “opting out”, why not help kids see that it is simply a measuring stick, there are ways to approach the tests, and doing your best is all that can be asked of them. And learning how to best approach a test is not a bad thing, but could be done all year little bits at a time. Most students don’t walk in cold to the SAT and expect a 2400. They prepare, learn about the test, and develop good test taking skills. Same should take place for younger students and the PARCC or any other test.

    • How much does it cost to go to your parochial school? Do you have as many standardized tests there as they do at the public school? Does funding to your school hinge on the results of those tests?

      • For too many years in the past, students were left to fall through the cracks. I know people who graduated from high school in the 80’s unable to read, and they were good, quiet kids who attended and tried. Too many tenured teachers took up jobs that they didn’t really care about and weren’t good at. They were not really held accountable.
        I started my teaching career in 1989 in a wealthy Connecticut suburb. They already had the yearly Connecticut Mastery Test, and while it was important to pay attention to, teachers didn’t go crazy worrying; they did their best to teach every child so that all would perform to the best of their ability. Schools were judged based on results even back then, and a school’s reputation, especially in a wealthy community, mattered greatly.

        I feel the same teaching in my parochial school as I did teaching in the wealthy public school when it comes to testing. It is a necessary evil, but it’s all in how you approach the challenge with your students in my opinion. I have come to be very anti-government schools, but still see the need for testing of some sort, periodically through each year.

      • And yes, in a sense funding does hinge on test performance. If we are not educating our students at least to the level of performance of public school students or better, parents won’t see a value of this private school education.

      • Well the problem most of these teachers and parents have is the incessant test taking and preparation at the public schools. This is something that you don’t have to worry about at the parochial school (and didn’t as much in the public school in the 80’s).

        You are also completely ignoring the socioeconomic challenges that most teachers in public schools have to deal with. You went from teaching at one wealthy school to another. It’s very easy to pat yourself on the back and say that you are a great teacher (I’m not saying you aren’t) but the fact is that it is a bit of a self fulfilling prophecy when you teach “rich kids” or even “comfortable well adjusted kids” and they end up performing better than a school that is a mixed bag of uninvolved parents, blue collar families working two jobs, poor kids, disabled kids and kids that don’t even have a grasp on the English language.

        For you I’m sure it’s a little easier to hit the ground running with your lesson plan when you don’t have to worry about those issues as much.

    • I think no one has a problem with other test but parcc test have no meaning to our kids! My kids all have SLD they can not get help on these tests and that is wrong. The parcc test are harder then the should be at times the reading is one or two levels above where the child taking it is. Above all these test are to grade the teacher and school nothing more so we must watch our kids get upset for no reason at all in our eyes. If anyone wants to know how well the teachers and schools are doing it should not be done by putting our babies through this mess.

  12. Every parent, in every district should opt out of having their children take such a govt: controlled test. Very very well written letter, now there is a teacher who cares.

  13. I understand the need for standardized testing to help measure schools, but what I can’t understand is why, if the purpose is mainly to measure school and teacher performance, every student must answer every question. The tests are computerized, after all. It should be possible and indeed quite simple to do a random statistical sampling of the class so that each student in the class only needs to personally answer a percentage of the questions. Five hours of computer testing is far too long and only makes sense if the primary goal of your test is to measure the student’s individual performance, like a college entrance exam, and not the performance of the teacher and the school in educating a group of students.

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  15. Great letter to your students. If we had more teachers like you, maybe the education system wouldn’t be so broken. As a teacher myself, I have experienced similar struggles. Greetings from Germany!

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