Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Last Friday, I opened Madalyn's Bee Book (fancy name for a handy little metal ring binder that houses all our vital info for school) to find a reading assessment. The names of the children in the class were greyed out, but Madalyn's scores were highlighted for me so I could compare hers to the others in the class and the averages. Comparisons can sometimes be informative but most often end in unsettling emotions.

The first test {ahem... excuse me, I should say assessment} was titled LETTER NAMING FLUENCY and described as an assessment that checks to see how automatic a student is with letter naming. Now I knew for a fact that Madalyn can recognize and name all her letters as we just sat down and did that last week. Her teacher had jotted me a little note saying that Madalyn was still confusing a few letters (F, Q, and K, I think). We sat down with a puzzle which matches letters with words, and I had her name the letter on each one. She did them all, though I admit she had to stop and think about the trouble letters her teacher had written me about, and I certainly did not time her. But she knew them all the same. In the first assessment, the benchmark is to name 40 letters within a minute. Madalyn was able to name 25, well below the class average of 46.8 and the listed benchmark. I was disturbed, so I looked forward to the next test.

The second assessment, titled PHONEME SEGMENTATION FLUENCY, measures a student's ability to segment each individual sound in words. The benchmark for each student is to correctly segment 35 sounds in one minute. Madalyn scored a 62, well above the benchmark, and slightly higher than the class average of 55.8. At this point, I felt a little better.

The final assessment was titled NONSENSE WORD FLUENCY, and this explanation followed: This is a true assessment that measures a student's understanding of the alphabetic principle. Okay. I wasn't aware that there even was such a thing as an alphabetic principle, but apparently I've been missing out all this time. This particular test presents nonsense words (or words that really aren't words at all) to see if the student can sound them out appropriately. Benchmark is 25, class average was 30.7, and my daughter scored 28.

When I absorbed all the test scores, I thought, "She's behind... she's not measuring up... but she reads the little books and sounds out the little words... we're failing somehow..." But the more I processed and examined the different tests and what they really meant, I felt better. The second test told me the most important thing I needed to know ~ that she is able to sound out real words on her own fluently. Then I started looking at the other students... some of the kids who named more letters in the first test didn't do well at all on the phonics. Some didn't do well on any of them. Some are obviously very intelligent and excelled on all three.

Bottom line is this: I have to take each assessment on it's own value, and the value of each one will be different in every circumstance.

Why do they put these kids through these assessments? Well, to measure them against what has been deemed normal or average. To see who is ahead and who is lagging behind. To find out what works and what does not. We face these tests throughout our life, but at some point, we have to make the decision to stand in our own results, accept both the areas where we excel and ones in which we need improvement.

Tomorrow, my mother faces new tests. Blood will be drawn, and comparisons will be made against the norm. Scans will be ordered, films made, and eyes will pour over them measuring the fluid collecting outside her left lung. Conclusions will be drawn based on measurements and tests, comparisons of what goes on inside my mother's body as it compares to normal healthy one. Granted, she won't meet the benchmark of normal. She has cancer. Nothing average about that.

Here's what I pray about those tests... that the doctors have all the wisdom and understanding in their minds and hearts to determine the best possible way to continue her treatment. That My Lord literally hovers around them, permeates their brain as they make their conclusions. That we all ~ my mother, father, brothers and their families ~ have the ability to take in the results for what they are in the moment, knowing that they won't be perfect, average, or right on the benchmark. Truth is, there's no benchmark with cancer. There's no ideal. There's no perfect unless it's simply disappeared, miraculously gone. And I would graciously take that option if presented to me...

No matter what the results say tomorrow, the fact of the matter remains that my life has been so blessed by her being in it. She has made me who I am (the good parts, anyway) and just watching her live makes me want to be a better person. She's been my strength and supporter and advisor and friend. When I look at her, I don't see the cancer. I see strength, resilience, grace, and dignity. I would take my mom with cancer over any of the mothers out there with no illness at all. That's just how magnificent she is.

And I take my daughter, phoneme segmentation fluent but lacking in timed letter recognition, over a child who can quickly tell you all the letters, big and small, but can't read a complete sentence. But that's just me. I am working on working with what I've got, appreciating the reality, not the longing for more.

As usual, prayers are coveted.


Victoria said...

You've got it sister! Prayers going up!!!

Rebecca said...


(and I hate those test scores coming home from school)

Erika said...

The nonsense words tests always confused me. Let's confuse our children more! Peyton's teacher in kindergarten actually taught those words so they would score higher on the assessments. So, you know, that's accurate.