As students took the PSAT today, I took time to reflect for a moment on our testing culture (both here at River Hill and in general). High-stakes testing has become a regular component of our educational system and for many students high-stakes result in high anxiety. One might think that the PSAT is just practice and isn’t as important as the actual SAT or an exam tied to graduation like the HSA or PARCC, but for juniors the test is also a qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship program. And let’s be honest, lots of sophomores and even freshmen who take the PSAT put a lot of weight into the test results.
Every year when I congratulate students on being a commended student (top 3% nationally on the PSAT), I always see a few dejected faces because they weren’t National Merit Semifinalists. Don’t get me wrong–I admire students’ drive for success and want every student to work hard and achieve the best possible score. However, I also want to make sure that students realize that is only that—a test score.
My thoughts on the matter were framed quite well in this article I read over the summer about a Head of a school In Lancashire, England who sent her students a touching letter about what tests mean and what they don’t. You can check out the article here, but read the letter below and remember that the PSAT and any other test is just a test. It’s important, but so is a lot of other stuff in life.
RACHEL TOMLINSON’S LETTER:
Please find your end of KS2 test results. We are very proud of you as you demonstrated huge amounts of commitment and tried your best during this tricky week.
However, we are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you—the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do. They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day. They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school. They do not know that you have travelled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends. They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best…the scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything.
So enjoy your results and be very proud of these, but remember there are many ways of being smart.