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My Child Is Not an Honors Student, and That's OK

And it’s OK. Seriously, it’s OK.

Maybe your child is an honors student. That’s OK, too.

Not that you needed me to tell you that.

The Iowa Test of Basic Skills is coming. Let me tell you, these things cause me anxiety.

Last year when my children came home with their Iowa Assessments, they were both concerned that their “bold, black lines” didn’t go into the 90th percentile, like many of their friends’ did. Commence questioning.

“I guess I’m not very smart.” “I’m sorry I’m not good enough, Mom.” “I wonder what questions I missed.” “See, I told you I wasn’t very good at math, here is the proof.”

I wanted to scream. I wanted to rip those ridiculous pieces of paper into a million, zillion pieces. I wanted to yell, “These bold lines do not show your worth or value as a human.” Instead, I went to the storage cave in our basement. I found my own test scores from the mid-1980’s (yes… my mom saved these along with my report cards and “Nikki can cut a straight line” awards).

I felt like I was in a time warp. As I looked at my own bold, black lines, the feelings came rushing back, the tears formed. I was reminded of my own feelings of “unworth.” Yuck. Turns out these tests showed I wasn’t very smart. Not at all.

My children didn’t understand – how could their mother, now a college professor, have only scored in the 40th, 60th and 80th percentiles? This was the perfect time to talk about the connection that exists between intelligence and worth.

I shared with them that I’m not (nor was I ever) good at taking tests. I overthink everything. I told them I flunked my driver’s test. Laugh, because it’s funny. On the test was a picture of a stop sign. The question was, “What do you do when you see this sign?” My children said, “You stop.” I told them I got the question wrong – commence hysterical laughter. Then I said to them, “I didn’t answer ‘stop.’ I answered ‘slow down.’ Because I could be two blocks away from the stop sign. I could see it half a mile away. I’m not going to stop when I see it. I’ll stop when I arrive to the foot of the sign.”

My children said I should take the driver’s test people to court because the test was wrong and I was right. I think they really just wanted another scoop of ice cream… which they received upon their compliments.

Let me underscore this posting with the fact that I don’t have a better answer, and I know the purpose of testing. I get it, I really do. I’m a teacher – and tomorrow I’ll write a post from a teacher’s point of view. We need standards. We must evaluate our students to understand what they do and do not know. For some occupations and curricular areas, testing makes perfect sense. This is more of a call for balance, a call for recognizing fireflies as much as we recognize academic superstars.

What are fireflies? A blog post last year from HandsFreeMama moved me in several ways. The post is about children who shine from within, not children who shine on a piece of paper. I felt a strong connection to this post because I was that child – and I’m raising those children. My question is, is there a way we can recognize “soft skills” in the same way we recognize quantifiable skills?

It’s imperative — and especially for children like my son, Tucker.

So, what changed in me? How did I finally feel good enough? I went to college. When I went to college I realized that my personal qualities excelled. I will be forever grateful to those professors who taught me I was good enough.

So, tell your fireflies to shine. Shine from within. Shine in the process. Teach your children that their worth is not a bold, black line. It’s not dictated by a bubble test. The test that really matters? The one from Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” There may not be a test to measure these things, but they’re the most important.

That is what I told my children. Your worth is not in this bold, black line. Sure, your math shows 47 percent. You know what’s at 100 percent? Your generosity in your willingness to give to charities, your giving school supplies to children who need them, your ability to share how you’re feeling, your kindness in helping a friend, your willingness to experience new things, your worth is in life — not a quantifiable mark on a piece of paper.

 They may not be honor students, but they’re students who are full of honor.

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