Student perspective: I’m more than a test score

Editor’s note: We have the permission of the parents and the sixth-grader to reprint this letter that was sent to State Education Commissioner John King. For more on the state’s obsession with testing and to take action, visit www.nysut.org/testing.

April 8, 2013

Dear Commissioner King:

I am Anna Dumas, a sixth-grade student. If you came into my classroom at Chateaugay Central School, you would see a poster of Rosa Parks that I made. On the poster is a portrait of Rosa and a mini-book about her life. Also on the poster is a movie scene of three important parts of her life. Another part of the poster is what I learned from her. I learned to stand up for what I believe in and to never back down. I had a lot of fun doing this poster. This is what school is supposed to be like.

Since third grade, I have taken standardized tests each year. On every New York state test, I have successfully scored a four. I may be a level four, but some of my friends have gotten lower scores. They have become very stressed and nervous. They have changed since we started test prep. They have gone from being happy and glad to be at school to being serious and dreading the state tests. There are fewer fun projects and more boring workbooks and bubble sheets in preparation of the tests. I wouldn’t mind taking the tests if they were based on the information we are learning in our class. Instead, the questions seem like they are trying to trick us, not finding out what we know. That’s not what learning is supposed to be like. We deserve more!

My teacher and many other teachers have said this year’s tests are going to be much harder than any other tests we’ve seen, and they are unsure of how to prepare us. When we hear this, we feel more worried, and feel bad for the teachers who are just going by their guts on how to prepare us.

As Rosa Parks once said, “Each person must live their life as a model for others.” I choose to be the role model for my peers. My hope is that more people will get involved in this issue, especially students. If the focus on the tests doesn’t change, kids like me who love school will hate it. Mr. King, please hear the voices of the students. After all, we are the future.

Sincerely,
Anna Dumas

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60 Comments

  1. Gina San hirico April 10, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    Thank you,Anna, for speaking up for yourself, your peers and your teachers. I have been a special education teacher for 26 years. I have never dreaded school before. I do now because my students are sad and anxious about their test performance just as you say. I hope your letter helps the NYSED to open their eyes and ears and listen to us all and stop the obsession with tests.

    • George Smock April 14, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

      I also was a special ed teacher and it did make my students very upset as they wanted to do well and could not do it to grade level for their age. They did try but it was not appropriate to test them at that level. Even students in normal classes have problems doing these tests. It is really a way to control our economy. Think of the students who succeeded with our degrees etc.

    • John Todras April 16, 2013 at 8:27 am #

      The obsession with test administration and taking in NYC has roots in big corporations and their survival. Test taking is big business. Instead of using the hundreds of millions for smaller classes, more music classes an teachers, more nutritious lunches, and a host of productive ways taxpayers money could be spent, in NYC. Mayor Pharaoh Bucksberg-Bloomberg has pushed test taking. That alone is now a large part of a teacher’s evaluation, and is highly unfair to teachers in difficult schools, which highlights what much of NYC has. Coupled with Mayor Bloomberg-Bucksberg’s need to build umpteen new schools every year, it shows the emphasis is not on educating, but on using school dollars to promote and support the construction industry, as well as a host of other corporations. The model Bloomberg has been using is awful, but of course, to me, he is an awful and malignantly narcissistic person anyway. Bloomberg is hell bent on showing he is the education mayor, when, in fact, shortly after having been voted in for an illegal third term, test results showed the kids did worse than 8 years earlier on standardized tests. He is a charlatan of the first order.

  2. craig April 10, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    Very proud that this young student is standing up for an injustice that is happening to her and her fellow classmates.

  3. Don Carlisto April 10, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    So proud of Anna! What a well written letter by a brave young lady.

  4. Kathleen Knauth April 10, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    Very well stated Anna! Tell your friends this really is not worth stressing over. We are all more than a number. Principals (that would be me), teachers, and students know what we do everyday. This year has been quite an adjustment and my job description is completely different this year.

    There are many pushing back. Newark high school students walked out yesterday to protest cuts. School Boards are sending messages to SED.

    Mr. King sends his children to a Montessori School so most likely are protected from NYS assessments.

    You keep writing, Anna. A bright future awaits!

  5. Ellie W. April 10, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    Wow, Anna! This is such a well written letter. Rosa Parks would be so impressed with you, standing up for yourself and so many others. I especially liked the part about trying to trick students. I hate having to warn my students that the test will try to trick them. That has never seemed fair to me and goes against everything I learned in college about writing a good test. As I read I couldn’t help but think that if this is how a successful student feels about testing, the students who are not as successful must be devastated. Sometimes I think that the test writers forget just how young these children are. Good for you, Anna. Keep standing up for what you believe.

  6. Elizabeth Brown April 10, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    Anna, what an amazing letter! Your teachers, your peers, and especially your parents should be so proud of you for standing by your convictions. I have been telling my students not to stress about these tests but to do their best – that’s all their parents and I want. I hope NYSED and Commissioner King hear your young but strong voice.

  7. Jeanine Underwood April 10, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    Way to go Anna! Your letter is well written and your points are spot on! YOU are one of the future leaders, and you give me hope! I hope that ALL state school systems will listen to your letter and that my children will be able to stop stressing the tests too.

    Blessings to you as you soar to success!

  8. Dana Doyle April 10, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    Thank you Anna!!

  9. Kathleen Triana April 10, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

    Your parents must be so proud of you! You wrote a wonderful letter and I hope the adults in Albany will realize how very wise you are.

  10. Stephanie April 10, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    I’m a teacher and am currently teaching test prep units. All the fun isn’t just gone for the students. It’s the most stressful, uninspiring time of the year. I hate seeing my students’ love of learning sapped and their curiosity and critical thinking skills shelved in favor of testing skills that they will only ever use on this test. Wasting a month or more of potentially life-changing instructional time in favor of teaching students how to handle an assessment is completely backward–assessment should be a celebratory opportunity for students to show what they’ve learned. Instead, we are teaching them how to take a test because the test is so far removed from what the students have learned all year. I don’t feel like I’m teaching. I feel like I’m doing just what Anna said–giving students tools to handle trickily-worded, arbitrary questions that are not tailored toward our instructional standards. What’s more, the information gained from these tests will serve virtually no purpose.

  11. Kathleen April 10, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

    Bravo, Anna!

  12. Marissa April 10, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    Go Anna! Teachers and students in BK, NYC are with you. Thank you for taking a stand and making your voice heard. It makes a difference. What you say matters!

  13. Vickie Tripi April 10, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    What an amazing letter, Anna. My daughter is in 4th grade and wanted to write a letter to express her feelings concerning the State testing. She, too, is a wonderful student who always enjoyed school but has become very stressed this past week struggling with the homework (test practice) packets.

    Good luck to you in your endeavors!! Hoping for a good outcome for all.

  14. Terry miller April 11, 2013 at 12:13 am #

    Anna you are so young to write such a well-articulated letter. You are right to speak up for what you believe. However, there will always be those like me who disagree with an important part of your assertion. Children are wonderful and are much more than their tests scores However, if the students are not being taught in class enough for students to learn the majority of the subjects, they need more time focused on the important parts of the subjects or they will have a harder time with life as they get a little older.

  15. Peter Neuendorffer April 11, 2013 at 4:53 am #

    This is a great letter, Anna! You will be a great writer some day!

    I took the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) way back in 1964. At the time, it was the be-all and end all to get into a good college. It is supposed to assess “aptitude”, not “achievement”, I think that view is baloney. I believe I scored well (1300+ out of 1600 best score.) in the Verbal and Math sections not because of my aptitude, but because of my home learning. But my friends at Harvard had perfect scores. At home, we subscribed to Scientific American, Life, National Geographic and The New Yorker – all I read voraciously.My mother was a writer and my father was a mechanical engineer.

    “An orange is to an apple as a Chair is to a what?” is a typical SAT question. This was my bread an butter, but I fear not most people’s.

  16. Bridget April 11, 2013 at 6:54 am #

    Well said, Anna.

  17. Mary Falco April 11, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    I am very proud of you Anna. You’ve learned to speak up without too much emotion so people can clearly hear what you have to say. One of the most important skills in life!! Well said and I fully agree.

    I used to tell my tenth grader, “It’s Dr. Piro (the principle) who’s being tested, not you.” to help him with the anxiety he felt every year. I love your Rosa Parks project. Did you know that Oprah looks at her as one of her heros?

    I hope the decision makers listen to you!!

  18. June April 11, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    Wow, kudos to you Anna. My daughter is in 8th grade and struggles every year with these state exams. She has a learning disability and school is stressful enough for her without adding the extra pressure of these exams. All they have done for her is make her despise going to school and add extra stress. There are enough pressures and stress being a teen but to add this on top is too much. There has got to be a better way. Teachers spend way too much time trying to prepare children for these tests than actually teaching them what they should be learning. What happened to worrying about the children??

  19. Matt Meader April 11, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    Thank you, Anna. You have eloquently given voice to your clasmates and students all over the state.

  20. Wayne Wells April 11, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    Wow. Articulate, succinct, gutsy. It comforts me to know that we have students like Anna willing to speak truth to power.

  21. Hilda Weisburg April 11, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    You are wiser than the adults who are supposed to setting education policy. I look forward to seeing how much you will be changing our world. And I don’t think you need to “grow up’ to do it.

  22. Beth H April 11, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    Beautifully said, Anna! You have gone the extra mile in taking what you’ve learned from the quiet heroism of Rosa Parks and incorporating it into your own life. Never stop believing that your actions can change the world around you. Thank you for getting involved in such an important issue at such a young age – I predict you will go on to do much good in the world!

  23. Mick Jarvis April 11, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    Anna, you have written a very powerful letter about a very real issue in our schools today. We must never forget that education is, first and foremost, about people. It is about relationships, discovery and growth; not just the accumulation of raw statistics. You are a remarkable young lady. Well done!

  24. Joe C April 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    Well said Anna! You are a brave young lady to stand up for yourself and your peers! Your parents must be proud that they raised such a brave intelligent child. We need to continue to treat children as children and not a test score. Well done Anna!

  25. PWiese April 11, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    I couldn’t be more proud to be a bulldog and have Anna Dumas and the many classmates she states have changed to being unhappy and stressed in music class, because these students aren’t stressed and nervous. In music class these students all play a part as a team to learn to create music with emotion. In music class these students shine, as all students should! A test can not measure the amount of effort and joy music brings to these students. I feel so very privileged and grateful to have the opportunity to work with these students everyday <3.

  26. Greg McCrea April 11, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    Brava Anna. You are an outstanding role model for your peers. I hope the adults are listening too, I hope they’re not afraid to stand up to Dr. King and the bureaucrats at SED. Grown-ups, are you listening? #ImwithAnna

  27. vicki gardiner April 11, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    Rosa Parks would be so proud of you Anna! You are such a mature and intuitive young lady who is wise beyond your years! We can only hope that Mr. King and the powers that be, listen to your words that express the frustration that their tests place upon everyone in the school community. Thank you for expressing your concerns, you are an excellent advocate for your friends. Way to go Anna!

  28. Mary Lobdell April 11, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    Anna, What a well written letter! The points you wished to make are stated beautifully. I am glad you are doing fun projects in sixth grade in spite of the test pressure that your teachers are under. I feel very badly for all of the students and teachers who have to experience the stress and frustration that comes with taking/giving these tests. I am very proud of the letter that you have written and I am very proud of you, Anna!

  29. Michele MacEachron April 11, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    Well said, Anna! Students should not have to be subjected to this kind of pressure. Thank you for speaking out on behalf of all those students who are feeling unhappy during these testing times. I am very proud of you.

  30. Theresa Jarvis April 11, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    Very well written. I agree with everything she has written. I see it with my children and these test make them stress and unhappy. They even hate to go to school during these test. I am glad there is a young lady speaking for the other students.

  31. John Paul Jurutka April 11, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    I am 28 years old and I remember going to school, mostly high school and hating it. Dreaded every day. I just pure hated it so much I refused to take my work home with me and spend even more time doing something I hated. There is nothing worse than having something you used to like doing, turn into just another chore that you can’t stand. Then have it shoved down your throat for three or more plus years. That’s why we have more drop outs and more G.E.D. recipients, I know I went to get my G.E.D. just to get away from all of that stress along with dealing with all the jerks in school also. When I was in regular High School my grades were ok but i stopped putting in the effort I should have just to get away. While I was going to high school I also signed up for the Automotive BOCES program, something I loved and still love doing and because of that reason, loving what I was doing made it easier to concentrate, I wanted to actually learn and not only did I pass I passed with HIGH HONORS and a 90 PLUS average. I was in the top 1 percent of my class. BECAUSE I LIKED IT!!!!!

  32. Arleen April 11, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    Anna thanks for sharing your voice. You made me look back at a time when I was required to take tests in Elementary and I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t really try that much on them. One time I was so sick that I just wrote down anything! I am a school teacher today and love to teach. I do see the same frustration with students who want to do well, but can’t quite get all the information needed to feel successful. There will always be tests but I don’t like the idea of the tests taking information and trying to trick students.

    I am glad you’ve been able to put your thoughts down in a meaningful way that may help people consider the outcomes they are really looking for and how to go about achieving them.

  33. Ginger Rivers April 11, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

    Way to go Anna! Very well written and so true! I know I can’t wait for the next two weeks to be done so that my students will have the “tests” behind them. Don’t stress over the test… just do your best! (I know those CCS teachers have you well prepared!)

  34. Susan Chesney April 11, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

    Excellent way to represent yourself and your friends at school. Following in the footsteps of Rosa Parks is an awesome way to go!

  35. Tom McMahon April 11, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

    What an amazingly powerful letter. Anna is brave and able to express the feelings of so many students state wide. It is baffling to me that a sixth grade students can grasp this, while our governor, commissioner of education and legislators continue to fail to understand that testing doesn’t foster teaching or learning. When will those people start to listen to the real “experts”?

  36. Shannon M. April 12, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    Perfectly put, Anna! Ms. Parks’ courage and bravery sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the most successful nonviolent protests in American history. The masses of African Americans living in Montgomery, AL decided that they had had enough of the discrimination not only in public transportation but in society in general. They peacefully protested for a year until their voices and actions were heard. Maybe we should all learn a lesson from Ms. Parks. Change will come when we all stand as one and make it clear that we will not tolerate this testing absurdity!

  37. Deborah Hanson April 12, 2013 at 7:59 am #

    Well said Anna! Your cousin Maddie is in my class and she (and the rest of the class love) your letter. We are very proud of you!

  38. Linda Hearley April 12, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    Anna, so well said! Your parents, teacher, and peers must all be so proud of you!

  39. Sarah Spicer April 12, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Dear Anna,
    You are a wise young lady. Thank you for having the courage and conviction to speak your mind about standardized testing. I hope Commissioner King will listen to you and the thousands of others who have voiced the same concerns.

    Good luck on your exams next week.

    Sincerely,
    Sarah Spicer
    Malone Middle School

  40. Brian Van Aken April 12, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    WOW, that makes me worried, way away from the issue as I am. That is to say, teachers telling students that 1. the tests are now to be harder & 2. that they have NO IDEA HOW TO PREPARE STUDENTS ON THE MATERIAL. It saddens me that all I can do is add one more voice of concern …… good luck.

  41. Anonymous Teacher April 12, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    Thank you Anna. You are allowed to say what you said. Teachers are scared for their jobs. I hope your words are heard by our politicians. Teachers feel like we don’t have a voice. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  42. Aimee LaShomb April 12, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    Anna,

    You are an inspiration, just like Rosa Parks. You are right. You all deserve more. The test score doesnt matter…..What matters is that you try your best…. at all you do in life….. You are all more than a test scores. You are human beings with a huge variety of strengths and talents, and a wide amount of knowledge that is not and sometimes cannot be tested. Good for you. Be proud, child. As teachers, we care more of who our students become, then simply the score they get on a test. You have already become something very admirable. You took the courage to stand up for something you believe in…and that passes any test, in my eyes.

  43. Stan April 12, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    Anna,
    Thank you for taking a stand for all students. The state has gone too far. Too much pressure on the students, teachers and staff. We need to get back to the basics and forget the entire year of state testing prep. You are truly an inspiration to us all. Keep up the good work.

  44. Dorothy Nisbet April 12, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    Very well said Anna. I was an average student in school and would get physically ill when test time would come about. Congratulations on doing so well, but also for recognizing that not all students can do as well. They are trying their best. No one should be judged on one exam; student or teacher. What the state Education Department is asking of students and teachers is totally unrealistic. Not only are they hurting students and their willingness to learn, but good teachers are retiring early because of the department’s unrealistic expectations. Young teachers are leaving education because they are not allowed to teach the way they had always dreamed. And student teachers are being told by their own parents who are teachers not to take up this career. The teachers I had , loved their students and wanted us to learn for life, not just for a test. Your parents and teachers should be very proud of you. And you should be very proud of yourself as well. A++

  45. Creecherteacher April 13, 2013 at 7:10 am #

    Congratulations Anna! I retired just for this reason. Children were living their lives in my classroom and because of the high stakes curriculum, I wasn’t providing them with learning that would enhance their lives. You are already a hero in my opinion. Keep standing up for what you believe in!

  46. Patrick Creamer April 13, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    Great job Anna! You were able to capture the feelings of students like you all across New York State. I am a teacher and my students want school to be fun and to do a lot of projects and labs, instead of test preparation also. Maybe your courage and your comments will make a real difference for kids everywhere… Thank you!

  47. Sharon April 13, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    Dear Anna,
    You are wise beyond your years. It seems life has changed so much that children are being robbed of their childhood, both in and out of school. It is my hope that when you are an adult, that you have a job like Commissioner King’s so that you can be an advocate for children.

  48. Julie Vasquez April 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    Anna’s letter is likely to start a revolution, go Anna! I remember one time emailing the principal at my daughter’s school about her anxiety at school, and that she was starting to be afraid to even go to school. There was an ongoing issue of bullying, but also my daughter was always talking about the stress she felt from the teachers at testing time and actually throughout the year. She said she felt guilty because the teachers were so hard on them and stressed out and would tell the class that they all had to score at least ….. or else I don’t know what? My daughter being very anxious, starting to have panic attacks because she was so afraid to go to school. When I emailed the Principal to talk about it, she returned my email a few days later, she addressed my daughters issues very quickly and then went on to tell me about HER stress and HER issues and that it took her so long to get back to me “because it was state testing time, you know.?”

    I wrote her back and said that I would suggest to her that when the next parent contacts her – worried about their son or daughter’s well being – that you don’t talk about your precious “testing time” implying that it is somehow more important than their childs health.

  49. Kristen Mendoza April 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    Anna, as an educator and a parent, I have to say I’m so proud of you. What a role model you are to your peers and the adults around you as well. I am a kindergarten teacher in Buffalo, NY, and my heart is breaking watching my students as they become less and less excited about learning. They are already talking about how they don’t like school and make comments when I say it’s time to test or progress monitor.
    Like you, I am becoming more active regarding the issue of testing. I want to believe that we will make a difference.
    Keep up the good fight, and good luck in the future.

  50. Jody Roos April 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    Anna Dumas you are my hero

  51. Lynne Hovey April 13, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    Hurray for you, Anna, and may you ALWAYS stand up for what you believe in! And may we, as adults, stand up for what’s important in school for our kids, too. Perhaps, we, too, WILL make a difference!!

  52. Kailah April 14, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    Hi Anna! My name is Kailah and I am in second grade. I just wanted to thank you for caring about your friends and kids like me who have to take all of these tests. It just seems like all of the teachers and students feel so worried about these tests and feeling worried is not a good feeling. I hope Mr. King and the other people who make us take so many tests will read your letter and make some changes. I love school and don’t want to have to feel nervous about taking so many tests. I want to have fun and enjoy learning. Thank you for being so brave and for standing up for what you believe in to help other kids. You are a hero. :)

  53. Mrs. C. April 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    Good for you Anna!! It breaks my heart as an educator to see the pressure that has been put on both young children and teachers to cope with taking these standardized tests. I was a teacher for ten years and I am presently home raising my children and going back to teaching in September of 2013. I keep hearing from all of my teacher friends that teaching is not what it used to be anymore and that there is a lot of pressure on the students and the teachers to prepare for these tests. It is not just the children taking the tests that are getting nervous, but also the children who are preparing for the tests in the younger grades that seem to be stressed knowing what they will have to face in the testing years to come. I have a daughter going into third grade next year and although she is a student like you who does very well in school, she has already made comments to me that she has heard from other older children how hard the tests will be in third grade. Too much pressure for young children! As an educator I always tried to make learning fun in my classroom and this always seemed to get the attention of my students and they were eager to and wanted to learn! I feel as though the light has been dimmed for many students who love learning because there is just too much pressure on them to perform well on these standardized tests! It is important that children know that their self worth is not determined by these tests scores. Your parents, teachers, and friends must be very proud of you for being their voice and for being the voice of many other people who feel the same way and just feel there is nothing they can do to get the NYSED to reconsider. I hope your letter is read and taken seriously so things will change for the students. As you said, the students ARE our future! Thank you Anna from the bottom of my heart!

  54. Renee Ames April 14, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    Hello Anna-

    Wonderful and inspiring letter- thank you for writing it! You are a leader!

  55. Bryan Thomas April 15, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Via Brian in Port Jefferson Station…

    The PJSTA will be wearing these shirts tomorrow:

    http://thepjsta.org/2013/04/15/learning-is-more-than-a-test-score-tee-shirts

  56. Bryan Thomas April 15, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

  57. Zoe April 16, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Great letter Anna! ALWAYS stand up for what you believe in. Hopefully, with amazing students like you, the education system will see a shift in the next few years and we can once again focus on learning rather than numbers.
    Keep it up!

  58. Karla April 17, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    Anna, it is your drive and commitment that WILL help create change. I applaud your decision and encourage you to stand by your beliefs. Your parents must be PROUD!

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