Harrisburg Elementary School students received a letter home last week from Principal Steven “Coach P” Puckett attached to their math and reading standardized test scores with a rather unconventional message – test scores, he said, don’t mean everything.
In the letter, addressed individually to each student, Puckett told students that their MAP test scores – a Common Core state standards initiative – “Don’t mean everything.”
“These tests do not always assess everything that makes each and every one of you special and unique. They do not know you the same way that your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do,” Puckett wrote.
The letter continues, “These tests do not know that you may have scored a basket in your game yesterday. These tests do not know that you may fluently speak two languages, play a musical instrument, be a wonderful dancer or paint beautiful pictures. Tests do not know you have a smile that will light up the world or a laugh that is so positively contagious it makes others laugh too!...These tests can not possibly know how deeply loved you are by your teachers, your friends, and your family.”
Puckett used his letter to try to explain to students why they are required to take the tests, writing, “…Your MAP scores give us a little information about how you are progressing in class or areas that we can continue to improve in, but they do not tell us everything….You should be very proud of your effort. I know we are. But please remember there are many ways of being smart. As your principal, I am so glad I get to work and learn from someone like you!”
Aimee Kochan, mother of two Harrisburg Elementary children, opened the letter when her sons got home from school and shared it on Facebook along with the caption “One of the reasons I love our principal!”
Kochan said Puckett stresses to students the importance of doing your best, but recognizes that “not all kids will exceed expectations.”
“I just felt like it was such an encouragement for kids who may not have the support required to get the high grades their peers are able to achieve,” Kochan said.
“Maybe their parents can’t afford to give them a good breakfast or life circumstances result in poor sleep habits. These kids may not perform well, but may have other areas to be proud of themselves. I think Coach P. really showed some kids that it’s OK that they got a lower score this time and congratulating the effort may help them to put forth more effort next time.”
Puckett said the idea was not entirely original – he saw a similar form letter at a recent district accreditation meeting – but that he tailored it to fit Harrisburg Elementary’s students and “game plan.”
The school’s motto, “Winning the Game of Life” comes from the school’s “Game Plan for Greatness,” a five step guide that students and faculty strive for.
“No. 1 is, ‘be positive,’” Puckett said. “Positivity has made a huge difference in my life.”
Puckett has received emails from parents about the letter and spoke with school staff who did not know about the letters until they distributed them.
“It’s been cool, we’ve gotten some good feedback from it,” Puckett said.
“More than one (teacher) said they were brought to tears from just reading the letter…it feels good to know that people recognize that we do know our kids aren’t just little robots that take tests.”
As a parent himself, Puckett knows how proud parents tend to be of their kids, regardless of their talents or merit.
“Being a parent too…I want everyone to look at my child the way I look at him. And I look at him like there’s no one greater,” Puckett said.
Puckett said he believes in the accountability of testing and assessing students and he always encourages students to do their best. He wants them to know, however, that it is just one area of assessment.
“We want our kids to believe in themselves, because they’re great kids,” Puckett said. “It came from our heart…this is what we believe.”