Gail Twist, the mother of an 11-year-old boy with autism from St. Helens in the United Kingdom, recently found herself in tears. But this time, the tears weren't caused by stresses with her job or the challenge of raising a young boy with autism. This time, they were tears of joy brought on by a letter sent to her son following his completion of a standardized test.
Twist's son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism when he was 5. Ben is currently in the sixth grade at Lansbury Bridge School and Sports College, a school for students with special needs. Ben was the only student in his grade to attempt to take the standardized test, and as his mom noted on Twitter, his grade was about what they had expected, but below the minimum standard needed to pass.
So you can imagine her surprise when she received a letter in the mail that contained not only his grade, but also a personal note from one of his teachers outlining all of the amazing qualities the boy possesses, qualities that wouldn't show up on any standardized test. The letter, written by teacher's assistant Ruth Clarkson, mentioned Ben's artistic talents, his ability to work in a team, his growing independence and his kindness.
"I wanted Ben to know how proud we are of him as he has worked so hard and made great progress this year," Clarkson told BuzzFeed. "We are a special school and it’s so important to us to measure progress in many different ways as I have outlined in my letter."
Clarkson's letter is reminiscent of a letter written by teacher Mary Ginley 17 years ago in response to her students' anxieties over exams. Ginley's letter has since been rewritten and reworded by other teachers and school principals who want to reassure their students that a grade on a test is not a measure of how special they are.
As Clarkson notes in her letter to Twist, "tests only measure a little bit of you." And it's rarely the bit that counts.