The year was 1999. It was just two years before George Bush would sign the controversial No Child Left Behind Act into law, and the push in schools across the country was to develop nationwide tests to evaluate students and teachers in new ways.
Mary Ginley was a teacher in Massachusetts at the time. And not just any teacher. She had recently received the 1998 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Award. Ginley loved her students, and she was angry and annoyed by how much pressure was placed on them over one series of tests.
So she wrote this letter, entitled "An open letter to students receiving MCAS scores," which appeared in her local paper.
You have received MCAS scores. Perhaps they were very good. Perhaps they were not.
Please remember strangers gave you these scores. And remember that there are many ways of being smart.
These strangers do not know that you can play the violin or dance or paint a picture.
They do not know that you take care of your little brother after school, that your friends can count on you, that your laughter can brighten the dreariest days.
They do not know that you write poetry, wonder about black holes, and know exactly how much change you should get when you go to the market.
They do not know that you built a shed with your mom and dad, grew vegetables in a garden last summer. They never saw the social studies project you did last year.
They do not know you are trustworthy, that you are kind, that you are thoughtful, that you care about what happens to old people.
They do not know you at all. But we who know you — your moms and dads, your grandparents and teachers, your neighbors and friends — love you and are proud of all you are.
The MCAS will tell you something but they will not tell you everything. How could they? The scorers don’t know you. And there are many ways of being smart.
1998 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year
Ginley's words about testing ring as true to students today as they did 17 years ago. In fact, there has been some controversy over the years as teachers and principals sent home similar letters to their students without officially crediting Ginley as their source.
When a Texas teacher sent home this letter to her students last year, a parent posted it on the Facebook group Momastery, and it immediately went viral. When an astute reader noticed the similarities, she called the teacher out for plagiarism. But Ginley saw the letter and this was her response: “If you want, you can put a sentence AFTER the letter saying ‘Someone named Mrs. Ginley wrote a letter like this many years ago.' But you don’t need to do that. The letter belongs to everyone now.” The original post has since been removed from Facebook.
As her comments show, Ginley does not mind a bit that her letter has been used as inspiration by so many other teachers and school officials. On her blog, the now-retired Ginley commented recently that she thinks the new versions of her letter keep getting better and better. She's just sad the need for such letters still exists.
Ginley also clarified her position on testing: "Contrary to popular opinion, I never was anti-testing. I just am against making it the end-all and be-all and spending the entire school year getting ready for it and spending big bucks making sure kids do well on it."
Once again, Ginley's words hit the nail on the head.