When Gail Twist’s son Ben failed his SATs exams at high school in the UK, the letter his teachers sent home wasn’t quite what his mum might have expected.
Ben has autism, and attends a school for special needs children in St. Helens, England (the Lansbury Bridge School and Sports College). Even though the 11-year-old could have opted out of taking the test, he decided to face the challenge.
Any time a student doesn’t pass a major exam, the letter the school sends home is typically bad news all round. You know it, maybe you’ve even gotten one yourself (when you were young, or more recently for your child). It comes to your post box as a form letter, with all the standardisation of the test that the child took. It might show a percentile, a cut-off range or some other numeric concoction that you don’t entirely understand.
Whatever the letter says, it’s not going to bring a smile to your face – or your child’s. Unless you’re Gail Twist. Even though she did receive the good ol’ form letter, letting her know that her son didn’t pass the test, she also got a second letter from his teacher.
The mum posted the letter on Twitter, tweeting, “In tears. A letter to my 11 yr old autistic son from his school. “These tests only measure a little bit of you”. “
So, what did the letter say and why was it so very special? Instead of focusing on the fact that Ben didn’t pass the exam, his teacher wrote about the boy’s attitude and talents. Sure, the educator could have kicked off the letter by telling Ben (and his mum) that the boy failed. But, she went a very different way and said, “I am writing to you to congratulate you on your attitude and success in completing your end of key stage SATs.”
Congratulations? That’s right. This top-notch teacher praised Ben on what he had accomplished. Okay, so he didn’t pass the test. Is that the worst thing in the world? No, of course not. And, the teacher made sure that he knew it.
We all know that standardised tests are controversial — what they measure, how they measure it and their ability to accurately evaluate a child’s ability all commonly come into question. Ben’s teacher, Mrs. Clarkson, notes this and writes,
“A very important piece of information I want you to understand is that these tests only measure a little bit of you and your abilities. They are important and you have done so well but Ben Twist is made up of many other skills and talents that we at Lansbury Bridge see and measure in other ways.”
The teacher goes on to list some of Ben’s many talents, making sure to highlight the fact that these are all skills and abilities that the test doesn’t measure.
While the exam may measure what a student ‘knows’, it doesn’t mark the student’s progress, attitude or say anything about his value. With more than 3,500 retweets and over 7,200 likes, it’s no wonder that this letter is being embraced online and around the globe.
In tears. A letter to my 11 yr old autistic son from his school. “These tests only measure a little bit of you” pic.twitter.com/e9OPECidxX
— Gail Twist (@gailtwist) July 9, 2016