The 27th Line

Tomorrow my students will take their first round of STAAR testing in Writing, a subject I teach twice a day. The test is scored by their responses to 40 multiple-choice revising and editing questions along with 2 essays—one narrative and one expository.

Although the Writing test is one of three they must pass in the 7th grade (along with Reading and Math), it was important to me to communicate to my students that it doesn’t mean that much to me.

Allow me to explain. I have known my students for 8 months. I spend more time each day with them than with anyone else. I teach some of them for 3 hours a day (the lucky ducks who have me for Reading, AVID, and Language Arts).

They are more aware of my quirks than anyone else (including myself—apparently I have an “about-to-go-off” face). They have taught me more about love, respect, and how to change the world than any other event, person, or experience in my lifetime. They are incredibly intelligent, highly talented individuals who encourage me daily to be a better person.

I don’t need a test to tell me how valuable they are to our future.

If they pass the STAAR tomorrow, it may say a lot about their growth as students. It may provide some evidence of their success in middle school. It may slightly indicate some part of their intelligence.

But it won’t measure their worth as humans. It won’t tell the whole story.

There has been a lot of criticism in recent years about the way education waters down learning the common core, the way teaching has turned to content and skills that may not matter at all.

We have imprisoned creativity and labeled imagination worthless. We have boxed children into standards that say next to nothing about their abilities. We have mislabeled intelligence as the ability to answer multiple-choice questions.

Today, I reminded my students that no one—not the world, the government, test-makers, parents, friends, family, nor society—gets to tell their story if they don’t let them.

I sometimes hesitate to post stories about my students because it communicates to you that I believe my students’ stories are mine to tell. Just because I teach them and always speak highly of them does not mean that I always share the story about them that they might share about themselves. I try to do them justice, but I sometimes fall short.

Part of the reason I write about my kids, and tell my version of their story (because really, it is our story), is because there are far too many negative, incorrect narratives about them. Some of my students are unaware of the way society portrays them, but most of them are fully aware of the way the world sees them. They need fighters in their corner. They need someone to point out stereotypes of them and tell them, “This isn’t you.”

Since becoming a teacher, I have heard a thousand ignorant comments about how people see inner-city children. I have been devastated by friends who assume certain stereotypes about my children because they have never heard a better story about them. I believe it is my responsibility to tell the world a different, better, truer story about my children.

Don’t take this as me saying that I get to tell my kids’ stories for them—they are the only ones with the power to do that. All I have the right to do is tell my story, which often involves them as leading characters.

But when I was their age,  bullies had told me so many untrue stories about myself that I had started to believe their fairytales. If it weren’t for the people who told me a different story, I would never have become the man I am. I wouldn’t be the Ben Taylor who knows his story is important and worth telling to others. I owe the same to my kids.

Because of this, a day before the Writing STAAR, I read the essay below to them to remind them that their worth cannot be measured by any test, standard, or person. Perhaps you can find some hope in it too, if you have found yourself answering to the wrong measures of a person’s true value.


In case it is hard to read from your Internet device, here is the full transcript:

You were born into the wrong times. In this age, they box you up, label you, and sell you for the price they think you’re worth. They size you up by how well you can shrink your brain to multiple-choice responses. If you cannot fit within their definition of intelligent, they will call you otherwise. They will work to ensure that opportunities aren’t handed to you by the same measure they are handed to others, that more doors close for you than open. They ask you to to tell them how smart you are in 26 lines–never mind that your story already stretches beyond lines and pages and books.

In the short time you have been on this earth, you have held the weight of love, felt the sting of heartache, known the joy of laughter, bitten into the sorrow of loss. You are not a statistic. You cannot be measured or weighed or labeled or boxed or held down. You are what is right in this wrong world. You will alter perceptions and destroy the shaky foundations of stereotypes. You were born into the wrong times, but you will make them right.

Whatever happens tomorrow–whether you pass or “fail”–will ultimately not define you, because you cannot be named anything you don’t answer to. Who you become is your decision. It is your story to tell, so make it a story worth telling. Many of the pages are blank, but rest assured: you are more than multiple-choice answers, and you are more than 26 lines.

You are the 27th line.

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107 responses to “The 27th Line”

  1. Great blog. It is teachers like you that brought me out of multiple remedial classes throughout my school years into university and eventually becoming a surgeon. Now I am also a clinical lecturer and teaching adults who have entrenched ideas about society is so much harder!! I really enjoyed your site.

  2. Thank you for pointing out that we can alter perceptions and destroy the shaky foundations of stereotypes. I hope to do that with my blog that tells of my struggles with mental illness and how it’s not a fad or a craze, but a reality that we can be aware of and take measures to prevent:

  3. Thank you for sharing this important message that we must remember, in a world of K.P.I’s and labelling. Sending positive vibes to you and all your students from Liverpool.

  4. Reblogged this on The Baker Man and commented:
    Here is an important read about standardized testing written by a middle school teacher. If you are not a teacher, please read this. He says it all so well. This over-testing and over-assessing of students needs to stop. If our schools are to help nurture our youth, give schools the time to do just that and not worry so much about data which only reflects a student’s performance on one particular day of the year.

  5. Right on. I taught for 13 years and saw a lot of this and felt for the students. Tests and “evaluations” such as what you describe don’t always work and actually turn regular students into fearful students. Again, right on. And write on.

  6. Wow Ben! You are so right! Mandated tests linked to accountability and funding are a joke. Your kids are very lucky indeed to have a great teacher who instills in them a sense of worth and belief. That will always matter more than answering a, b, c, or d!

  7. Reblogged this on mynewbeginnings2012 and commented:
    This is a great story and viewpoint. So much pressure is put on these kids for the testing and what does it really tell is about our children?

  8. I learnt zero in school due to a combination of a dodgy history, no interest in school and teachers having more pupils than they could handle. I learnt English, maths, IT, history, sociology, psychology and more in college. My best tutor was the one who said ‘that’s not wrong so I’m not crossing it, but it’s not right yet’ and handed it back to me. Great post. I’m following.

  9. It’s incredible how the government tries to fit every person, who are, metaphorically, all unique shapes into boxes. Potential is a terribly narrow thing if it’s defined by a narrow definition. As a high school student, I really admire this. Thank you.

  10. Ben,
    My daughter, Liz Carrington, who also posted above, told me about your blog just yesterday. You make a totally reasoned presentation about testing and other “benchmarks” imposed by bean counters. Perhaps more importantly, however, you display a maturity, a caring spirit and a true belief in the uniqueness and potential of all your students. You are what many of us would call, “a natural teacher!” I just published my book recounting 17 years as the Director of Parent Relations for a very large school district (65,000 students). This is a fancy title for the complaint department.
    I am much older than you (older than your Dad) and just feel so heartened when I read what you have written. Keep at it. Please find out about my book on my website,
    If you would like a review copy contact me and we’ll get the publisher to get you one. Book and website are new (February, 2014) but would like to put a link to your blog to refer people.

  11. Magic magic, magic. I have spent years teaching in inner suburban Melbourne where most of the kids were Vietnamese boat people or Lebanese or Greek or Italian and it would be uncommon to have a Skip (Aussie) in the class. They were the best years of my life. I hated National Curriculum and Universal Tests and I absolutely loved your post. If you get a chance look at my “Education” page and posts. You don’t have to look at the other stuff. But some things might resonate with you. How many times can I hit the “like” button?

  12. Great thoughts and great writing! May I have your permission to submit this to one or two publications? I’m also going to write one of my columns for The Microplex News on the content, etc. You are a beautiful story but then you always have been. Love you! Aunt Karen

  13. I loved your 27th line. I’ve been a teacher most of my life, and I cannot agree with you more. Those who take the time to really know a child will find that there is a world inside that will astound and amaze you. Keep up the good work. You were obviously born to be a teacher. P.S. I have known your dad for years.

  14. Yes, yes, YES!! Well written! I feel the same passion for my students that you clearly do for yours! When they feel that you believe in them, they, in turn, begin to believe in themselves. Thank you for this! I LOVE IT!

  15. This is amazing… I get it. Thanks for sharing. I wish I would have had you to tell me I was more back then. It may have changed my destiny.

  16. Just letting you know I will give this to my students tomorrow as they are in Summer School because of the STAAR Test.

    Even when I want them to succeed, I also want them to know they are important, regardless of what the raters say.

    I shared it with my students last semester, and now I will share it with the summer class. Hopefully the message keeps spreading.

    Thank you again!

  17. Thank you for your inspiring writing! You captured what so many of us teachers think and what we wish to say and wish to do with the demands of high stakes testing. I would be interested in knowing how your students performed and if this approach makes a positive impact on scores? Also, can you offer any advice for those of us who have salary tied to student test scores through professional compensation? I’ll definitely be reading more of your blogs, thank you!

  18. […] as I move from my personal experiences to reflect on what I saw as a teacher in Dallas. From my belief that standardized tests spell the death of creativity in schools (“measured by multiple choice, all the way to primary/tell the kids to fit in boxes and […]

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