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Letter: Children shouldn’t be defined with testing data

Measure, measure, measure. It seems to be a current chant in educational spheres.

Let me first start by telling you that I have a new niece, and watching her accomplish language milestones naturally and with lots of familial feedback to her seems miraculous; it has required me to write this letter to the editor.

She is delightful and her name is Josie Caroline. She will enter a school system too soon, a system that will categorize and label and sort her. The system will teach her the “right way” to do things like read and compute. OK, maybe not the right way but certainly the way to demonstrate gains that are respected by a flawed system.

She’s gotta learn to play the game. I will be by her side to say, “You are enough and more.” More than ever that measurement mantra makes me sad.

As a teacher, I recently had a beautiful opportunity with a student celebrating his learning and sharing it within the school — with peers, teachers, administrators. Sadly, that moment will unlikely ever find itself on a standardized measure or kept in a permanent record. But if I compare himself to himself, he’s made great gains. Can we make the shift?

I savor and rely on moments with students that cannot nor should be quantified. They happen every day. We just have to train ourselves to take notice of them and to story them, so that others are encouraged by all that has occurred.

I seriously could complete an ethnography with each class. Each group and student is uniquely different and let us be honest, childhood is a foreign land. We can learn if we get out of the way.

As an educational system, we are in such a funk of labeling and sorting humans. These moments where students are happy and more than overjoyed and proud and confident to share and smile cannot be quantified. It makes us nervous, I guess.

All the difference in an educational system that struggles to make sense of the really “good stuff” is troubling. Can we value childhood? Yes, schooling is political but think of the children.

We must breathe humanity into our decisions about students. What makes us human and capable of empathy will change the world — not a DRA score or a Lexile or a Milestones band. The moments I talk about cannot be charted in Excel but can be told with words. I hope this letter challenges you to challenge the quantitative measure of a child.

Your child is more than a number. Your grandchild can be defined by his/her talents rather than an arbitrary test.

Beef up at the playground and resist comparisons. Share your stories instead.

It will take us all to recognize that one or two or three days of testing will not define our students. Instead, our stories will tell you where they were, where they have been, what progress they have made and where they are going.

Shane Rayburn


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