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"A Test You Need to Fail": A Teacher's Open Letter to Her 8th Grade Students

Perpetual, high-stakes testing is often accused of inspiring mediocrity -- but is it also criminal? To one teacher's mind, there's no doubt that it is.

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So what should you do, my beautiful, my bright, my intelligent, my talented? Continue. Continue to question. I applaud you, sample writer: When asked the either/or question, you began your response, “Honestly, I think it is both.” You were right, and you were brave, and the test you were taking was neither. And I applaud you, wildest 8th grader of my own, who—when asked how a quote applied to the two characters from the two passages provided—wrote, “I don’t think it applies to either one of them.” Wear your zeroes proudly, kids. This is a test you need to fail.

I wondered whether giving more than 10 minutes of every class period to reading books of our own choosing was a good idea or not. But you loved it so. You asked for more time. Ask again; I will give you whatever you need. I will also give you the best advice I can, advice from the Nobel Prize-winning writer, Juan Ramón Jiménez. Ray Bradbury thought this was so important, he used it as the epigraph at the beginning of Fahrenheit 451: “When they give you lined paper, write the other way.”

It is the best I have to offer, beyond my apologies for having taken part in an exercise that hurt you, and of which I am mightily ashamed.

Ruth Ann Dandrea ( dandrea@twcny.rr.com) has taught secondary English in upstate New York for 29 years. A freelance writer, she is co-author of Women on Water, about women’s kayaking, which will be available from North Country Press this spring.

 
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