His second grade teacher told me his MAP scores didn’t even meet the 1st grade benchmark as he was entering my 3rd grade classroom. She told me that he was a troublemaker. He was a referral waiting to happen. “Good luck” was her only advice.

I understand benchmarks and the way that they offer a measure of where students are, but I haven’t found them to be reliable. I have found a much better measure. A student’s face tells me more than any permanent record or scantron test results ever could. By looking at my students’ faces or kid-watching I can tell you whether they are scared, happy, challenged, tired or worried.

Benchmarks abound in papers, in school faculty meetings and in parent/teacher conferences. It’s all the rage in educational discussions.

“Is this school meeting its benchmarks?”

“Is my son/daughter meeting grade level benchmarks?”

Benchmarks are quantitative measures determined by standardized test scores. One test. One day. One chance. Is this really the best measure of whether our student are learning? Is this really the best measure of whether a school is succeeding?

I much prefer this benchmark that I encountered by chance. It isn’t forced. It’s a natural reflection of the state of things. I can read and study permanent records until my fingers are dyed black from the inked labels, but that doesn’t tell me what kind of students I have.

She was wrong. He wasn’t a referral waiting to happen. He was the sweetest, gentlest student I ever had, even when he tried to glue stick me to my chair. And when he came in two days before our poetry jam with that natural smile, that unforced smirk and said, “Ms. Neely I memorized my poem! I’m ready!” I knew he had reached his benchmark: he believed in himself.