As a first grade teacher in Florida, Arehzo Poirier's first experience with standardized testing was as a mom. When her son, Jack, was in third grade, he received an inspirational letter from his own teacher, telling him that, more than his potential test scores, she was proud of all of his hard work that school year.
The following year, Poirier wrote a special letter of her own to a group of former students who were about to take their first standardized test.
"That particular group of students were extremely special to me," Poirier told TODAY Parents about the now-fifth graders. "They were a unique bunch of kids that all found a permanent place in my heart."
A few years later, Poirier met another group of first graders who left an imprint on her heart. This year, those students are in third grade, and Poirier sat down again to write a touching letter to the group of children, to be hand-delivered to them one week before their own standardized testing would take place.
"The Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) is a big test, but it's not an important one in my eyes," Poirier wrote. "The real test is how you present yourself as a student and as a little human every day of your life. The real test is how you showed kindness to those less fortunate than yourself. The real test is how you persevered and never gave up, even when things were tough... The real test is how after two years, you all still make me proud to have been your teacher."
Poirier says she's never bought into the negative feelings that sometimes surround standardized testing. The mom-of-two says her letter was meant to calm her former students' nerves and remind them what they are capable of.
"Like anything else in life, it's all about the way you approach it and what it is being used for," said Poirier. "Standardized testing has its purpose, but I think teachers and parents need to remember what is really important in the long run — teaching and reinforcing life skills like showing kindness and empathy, having a sense of humor and being cooperative and respectful. These things are extremely important, even if they never appear on a test."
Writing the letter was emotional for Poirier, who has been teaching first grade for 14 years.
"Writing the letter made me cry as I wrote it, because I meant every single word," Poirier recalled. "My son is in sixth grade now and still has that letter (from his third grade teacher) in his desk at home. As a parent, seeing the look on my boy's face as he read that letter made me realize testing isn't so bad if it's approached in the right way. It inspired me to do the same with my former first grade friends."
Here is the full text of Poirier's inspirational note.
Dear former Poirier friends,
Next week, you will take the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) for the first time. This is a test I am sure you've heard a lot about. It will test you on your reading and math skills. Can you remember what I told you whenever you took a big test with me in first grade? I always told you to stretch yourself and brag about your brain. The FSA test is just like any test we took together in first grade. It will tell you and your teacher what you've learned in reading and math, and what you can do with these skills on your own.
The FSA is a big test, but it's not an important one in my eyes. The real test is how you present yourself as a student and as a little human every day of your life. The real test is how you showed kindness to those less fortunate than yourself. The real test is how you persevered and never gave up, even when things were tough. The real test is how some of you were able to make me laugh out loud every day. The real test is how some of you have a smile that can brighten even the darkest of spaces. The real test is how after two years, you all still make me proud to have been your teacher.
I don't write letters like this to all of my previous first graders. You all were very special to me and you will always be. I am writing this to you not because the FSA is important or extraordinary, but because you are.