Sunday, June 19, 2016

True Tests of School Success (hint: it's not EOG prep)

School's been out for over a week now, and this is normally when the end-of-year festivities have quieted down enough to where I can actually reflect and consider the past school year with the students I work with.

There are many stories and incidents that have popped into my mind, but there's one recent experience with a special student that's been stuck in my head.

It happened on one of the last days of school (which is partly why I recall it so well, but I think the more lasting impression isn't due to the timing but the thoughts it left me with). This boy whom I've had the joy to work with in a small math group since November almost knocked me over in the hall. He was literally bouncing on the tops of his toes, his small frame shaking with excitement. His teacher had just revealed his math and reading EOG scores to him.

"Do you know? Did she tell you? Do you know what I made?" he was practically squealing.

Playing dumb, because I knew it meant more to him to reveal his special surprise than for me to show my prior knowledge of his test scores, I asked him to tell me his results.

"Two fours! Can you believe it? I just wanted to pass. I was hoping for threes, but I got reading AND in math! I can't believe it, can you?"

I looked at his large, proud smile and matched his with my own.

What I wanted to say to this bright, kind-hearted boy was something that had nothing to do with his recent testing success, as he saw it. What I wanted to do was tell him how amazed I was that he had overcome so much this school year: starting at yet another new school, navigating his way through a less than stable home life, very gradually learning to share his insights with his new teacher and classmates, no longer hiding his answers in our math group like he did when we first started working together, not having to blink back his tears on the days he didn't seem to understand something the first time, eventually feeling comfortable enough to explain his ideas and strategies (even when they were different than the others'), and then the day he felt like showing his celebration dance when he was the first to "get it right" in our group. I didn't want to talk test scores, I wanted to celebrate the new-found confidence he'd discovered this school year that goes way beyond two test days. I resisted the urge to tell him he was way more than a pair of fours, that he has more bravery and insight than some adults I know, that he has a caring heart, and clever wit and is going to do amazing things in his life.

But here he was, grinning ear-to-ear with his news. So I just hugged him tightly and said, "Yes, we knew you could do it." And I think that was really all he wanted to hear that day.